Byron's Babbles

Inspiration of Herbert Hoover Leadership

Today, my family and I had the privilege of visiting the Hoover Historic Site in his birthplace of West Branch, Iowa. The historic site is well done with the home Herbert Hoover was born in, his dad’s blacksmith shop, his one room schoolhouse, the Quaker Meeting House, and many other buildings set to the time of his birth on August 10, 1874. He was born in a two-room cottage and could have been any small town boy. Orphaned at age nine, he left West Branch, never to live here again. 

We also visited the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa, and we took the opportunity to learn some leadership lessons from our 31st president. Values learned in his hometown of rural West Branch guided Herbert Hoover throughout his life of service to the nation and the world.

Herbert Hoover was President during the early years of the Great Depression, others may know him as a complex public servant, the “Great Humanitarian” whose career spanned a remarkable seven decades. A graduate of the Pioneer Class of Stanford University, Hoover became a successful mining engineer before organizing relief programs for the starving victims of World War I.

Herbert Hoover was a man of action. When he saw a need, he took action to meet it; when he saw a wrong, he did his best to rectify it. Hoover didn’t wait to see if someone else would take care of it – he recognized need and took initiative to resolve it. Hoover was a responsive leader.

In addition to being responsive, Hoover was also understanding and compassionate. Though later in life he became a millionaire, Hoover was born into poverty and orphaned as a young boy. It was only through hard work and determination that he was able to make a better life for himself. Because of his personal experience with poverty and hardships as a boy, Hoover empathized with the less fortunate. Turning his attention to the woes of the world, Hoover used his wealth and influence to become an international humanitarian; under his charge, millions of starving men, women and children were fed and lives saved.

As Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge, he helped to create safer highways and aircraft, better health care for children, and the standardization of commercial products. And, in 1927, he mustered a fleet of 600 boats and 60 airplanes to rescue 325,000 Americans who were left homeless during the catastrophic Mississippi River flood.

“There is no joy to be had from retirement, except in some type of productive work. Otherwise you degenerate into talking to everybody about your pains and pills. The point is not to retire from work or you will shrivel up into a nuisance to all mankind.” ~ Herbert Hoover

President Truman chose Hoover to help the hungry people of Europe at the end of World War II, and he spent his “retirement” years as an amazingly prolific author, speaker, and government adviser. Continuing his life-long desire to help needy children, he also served as chairman of the Boys’ Clubs of America, helping to open 500 new chapters throuhgout the United States.
Hoover really never retired. I admire him for that. Hoover really understood that significance is much more important than success. With success leaders add value to themselves. Make no mistake we have to work toward success innour careers, but I believe significance comes when you add value to others—and you can’t have true success without significance.  Hoover truly worked toward significance, where he asked himself, “What else is there in life beyond professional, political, and monetary success? He, in my opinion, made the world a better place. 

It also strikes me how Hoover did not make ideological differences personal. He always said to attack the problems and differences, not the person. We need to take this lesson and apply it to our world today. Especially in the field I am in of education. We always make differences so personal. We all want the same ends for our children; we just have different means by which to get there. 

As you can see there are many leadership lessons to take from the historical leadership playbook of Herbert Hoover. What areas do you want to work on? What would you like to have as a legacy for your family and country? How does Herbert Hoover’s life inspire you?

Making Cultural & Spiritual Connections

Yesterday, my family and I went to see Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. It was part of a four state excursion in one day, which included Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. What a day. On our trip that started last Friday night, we have seen some incredibly beautiful parts of our great country, majestic and powerful wildlife, National Parks and Monuments, and awesome people. Fly fishing Spearfish Creek from Belle Fuersch, South Dakota then all the way through Spearfish Canyon was a truly incredible experience with nature for my son, Heath, and I.

Many times on this trip I thought, “Wow, what beauty God has created.” As I have studied Native American history and culture and had the honor to visit personally with Native Americans on this trip, I have come to realize I don’t appreciate what I believe to be God’s creations enough. Today, at Devils Tower I had the opportunity to learn how sacred places are in the Native American culture and spiritual life. The connections which tie American Indian culture Devils Tower are both ancient and modern. Oral histories and sacred narratives explain not only the creation of the Tower, but also its significance to American Indians. They detail peoples’ relationships with the natural world, and establish those relationships through literal and symbolic language. The Northern Plains tribes, including the Kiowa, Lakota, Cheyenne, Crow, Arapahoe, and Shoshone have the closest ties to the Black Hills area where Devils Tower is located, but there are some 24 other tribes that have a connection there. 

The connection to nature, and specifically Devils Tower, is not only about the creation of the place, but also the people’s relationship to the place. I find this interesting because I don’t think those in my culture think enough about our relationship to nature and our place in it. Particularly our responsibility to what God (as I believe) created. In doing some studying I found that a key difference between American Indian religions and many other contemporary religions (“western” or “near eastern” religions) is the importance of places that dominate the religion of American Indians, as opposed to the sense of time that dominates many western religions. Instead of a focus of chronological events and the order in which they are presented, American Indian religion focuses on a place and the significant events that are connected with that location. Now to be sure, Christianity in my case, has important places, but we do not hold the level of sacredness associated with the important places of American Indian religions.We had the chance to experience one of the most common ritual that takes place at Devils Tower: prayer offerings. Colorful cloths or bundles are placed near the Tower – commonly seen along the park’s trails – and represent a personal connection to the site. We saw many tied in the trees. They are similar to ceremonial objects from other religions, and may represent a person making an offering, a request, or simply in remembrance of a person or place. As with many religious ceremonies, they are a very personal act. My family and I spent many hours hiking on the trails and in the boulders of Devils Tower. I overheard one young child ask his parent why there were red ribbons tied in the tree. The parent actually replied, “Don’t pay any attention to that it is just something those ‘Indians’ do.” Wow, what a missed opportunity to help our children understand other cultures, religions, and our fellow man. 
We must take more time to truly understand and have courageous conversations with those with customs and beliefs different than our own. I so believe in the principles OUR (that means all of us) country was founded on. Freedom of religion is one of those and we need to respect others’ cultural and spiritual beliefs. Take some time and learn others’ beliefs and help our young people understand those beliefs as well. 

My Fourth of July Leadership Wish!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend the day in what I would call some of the most beautiful parts of the world – the Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park, the Black Hills National Forest, the Crazy Horse National Memorial, and finishing the day at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. All in the great state of South Dakota. We have been prepping for this trip for quite some time and, of course, I have been reading a lot of books. It was so exciting to see so many of the historical sites where important events took place. Also, it was very moving to see sites that had religious and cultural meaning to the people who were the true original caretakers of this land long before it was the United States of America. I question if how we came to have this part of the country would have pleased George Washington. 

As you can imagine, I had the audible books playing for Hope, Heath, and I for the trip out. Reading books is such a great way to learn others’ perspectives, cultural differences, and history. 

The Badlands National Park was such an awe inspiring display of the forming of our earth and the climatic and geological changes that occur over time. We did some hiking and spent time enjoying the wildlife. It reminded us how important it is to take care of and respect the parts of the earth we personally affect. Also, we said a little thank you to Teddy Roosevelt for being a preservationist and ensuring we had these National Parks to learn from and enjoy.

Then, it was off to Wind Cave National Park. Immediately, upon entering the park we encountered buffalo, elk, and prairie dogs. The highlight for me, however, was seeing the place where The Lakota Nation believe was the beginning of their people and the buffalo. It is a small opening in the earth, about 18″X24″ where there is a constant cool wind coming out of the cave. The Lakota believe they and the buffalo entered the world from this opening. It was very sobering to stand in this spot. I wish everyone in the world would take time to understand the cultures and beliefs of others. 

Heath made the comment to me, “You know dad, the Lakota’s belief in their creation from the earth is no less believable than ours, as Christians, of there being a Garden of Eden.” I was proud of him for “getting it.” It doesn’t take away from our own beliefs to understand and respect the beliefs of others. As a state’s rights/individual rights democratic government guy, I question if the way we (the United States) came to be in control of this land is what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when penning the Declaration of Independence. Particularly, being founded on the principle of freedom of religion. I’ll let you ponder that question. 

Next, it was off to the Crazy Horse National Memorial. Crazy Horse, as you know, was one of the great leaders of the Oglala Lakota who worked with Sitting Bull and Chief Red Cloud to save the region where we are right now for their people. This memorial is awesome and does not use any tax dollars for creation. As an example of how this is being done is the fact that all the granite that is cut away from the mountain in sculpting is used to build the buildings and roads as a part of the complex. I would recommend everyone do some studying of the inception and continuation of the work on this monument. 

I also had the distinct honor of getting to meet, spend time visiting with, and learning from the author of one of the books I had read in preparation for the trip, Ed McGaa Eagle Man. He even autographed his book for me! Ed McGaa (Eagle Man) was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and is a registered tribal member of the Oglala Sioux. He received his Bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University and earned a law degree from the University of South Dakota. 

He studied under Chief Eagle Feather and Chief Fool’s Crow, both influential Sioux holy men, and is honored by the Sioux for having participated six times in the Sun Dance ceremony.

He also served as a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, receiving eight air medals and two Crosses of Gallantry, and was recommended for a Distinguished Flying Cross.

We discussed his heritage, cultural practices, religious beliefs and those of the Oglala Lakota. It was so awesome for Heath and I to sit and learn from this great man. If we would all just take time to understand the beliefs of other and really respect them; what a better place the world would be. Everyone needs to take time to read Ed’s book, Crazy Horse and Red Cloud. It would serve us well to learn from the arrogance, hubris, and lack of understanding of the leaders of the time that caused the removal of the true caretakers of the land at the time. 
Ed told the story of how General Custer lost at Little Big Horn because he did not understand the Lakota, the superior weponry of the Winchester repeating rifle the Lakota had acquired, and the fact that Custer turned down an extra 800 men. We could point to all of this as bad leadership. It is also disappointing to hear all the times our government negotiated and then did not keep our promises. As Chief Red Cloud said of the only promise kept by the United States: “…They promised to take our land and they took it.” I would like to have a conversation with Abraham Lincoln about what happened here and the vision for our country that he was not able to see through to completion. 

The last stop of the day was Mount Rushmore National Memorial. This was a pretty incredible culmination to a great day of reflection and learning. As you have noticed, I have weaved reflections about the four presidents on Mount Rushmore into this post. It is my sincere hope that I can contribute to our country in significant ways and live the life I have described in this post of understanding and respecting the beliefs of others and caring for this beautiful earth we have been given. This is my Fourth of July wish.

Baling The Side Ditches

My family and I are on vacation this week in the Black Hills of South Dakota. As you can imagine I have been reading up on the Lolitas, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, General Custer, the US involvement with Native Americans, and of course, Mount Rushmore. Despite all this learning, there was another lesson staring us in the face as we travelled completely across (literally) the awesome state of South Dakota: almost every mile of Interstate 90 of side ditch (what we call the roadsides in Indiana) were either baled, being baled, or being mowed for hay. 

We were amazed by the quantity of grass hay being baled on these roadsides. For one stretch, my son Heath, counted 150 big 6’X6′ round bales on the north side (west bound) lanes of the interstate and got tired of counting. Heath really got me thinking when he said, “Dad, this is genius, why don’t we do this?” He went on to say, “Look at all the good hay they are getting and the state does not have to pay to mow roadsides.” I was pretty proud of his thinking – particularly cutting government costs!

Then I got to thinking that we need to find the roadsides to mow in all our organizations. What might be going to waste somewhere that our own business, organization, or school could be using? I am sure if we spent a little time brainstorming we could come up with some pretty amazing stuff. 

In my own case of leading a school, I talk a lot about existing infrastructure. In other words, what are others doing that the school could partner with and not have to use State dollars to provide? I think about this a lot around social services. To me it does not make sense for schools to spend a lot of money on services that are being provided in every county; and done very well, I might add. I continue to say we need to develop a “constellation of services” so we are not all trying to do the same thing.

Really, we need to be thinking like a farm kid. As a young boy I would go to the local elevators and other farms and clean up their grain screenings (broken corn kernels and chaff that is screened as corn goes up the elevator). Left in piles it would just get wet and gross as it rained in the fall. These screenings were dusty to pick up and no one really liked the job. For me, it was an opportunity. I could spend the fall feeding out some pigs on all the grain screenings I collected. In fact, it got to where people would call and tell me the pile was getting big. Also, I was always very busy collecting the screenings when the weather report was calling for rain. 

So, just as the farmers in South Dakota, and I’m sure other states, apply for permits to bale roadsides, we need to consider what our opportunities for baking side ditches are. I’m sure they are out there if we just take the time to look. 

Alternative Truths

This past week I had the opportunity to do an awesome activity with members of The Value Web at their annual gathering. We were all given the task of picking an article that we had individually read in recent months that was impactful to us. We were then instructed to send the link to the article to our facilitators the Friday before the event. Then, yesterday all the articles had been printed out and pinned to boards. Then we went on a hunting expedition to find an article (not our own) that we found intriguing and interesting. We were instructed to get into groups of six. We were then given the Read, Read, and Read Some More protocol to carry out. I have posted the protocols here: 

Of course, the article I sent in was by Peter Block and entitled, “You Are The Guest.” Click here for the link to that article. The article I picked for the activity was “Why bullshit is no laughing matter” by Gordon Pennycook. Click here to read that article.

Interestingly, in our group of six the discussion using the Talk About It protocol revolved around the idea of “bullshitting.” You can see a graphic recording of our discussion, here: 

Graphic Recording By Jessica Browdy


We had a great discussion. Here are some points that really resonated with me: 

  • Conversations leading to trust are more valuable than scientific knowledge leading to jargon
  • Letting serendipity occur and create space is more valuable than engineered space
  • Be intentional to create space for serendipity to occur
  • We must build our emotional capacity to balance science and our beliefs to create space for trust
  • We live in the age of information, which means we live in the age of misinformation
  • It’s easy to bullshit – impress rather than inform
  • For the bullshitter, it doesn’t really matter if she is right or wrong. What matters is that you are paying attention
  • Many will rate sentences with buzz words as more profound than sentences with clear meaning

We also discussed how opportunities arise that we don’t consider, some objectives fall short and some exceed our wildest expectations. We spent time talking and thinking about how many times we have achieved success and realized that it is a combination of a great strategy, solid execution and serendipity. Serendipity is defined as “An aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.” Pretty straight forward and I’m sure we can all think of many instances in our lives that came about in this very way.

Then we discussed the need to incorporate into your strategy a process to create and take advantage of serendipitous moments. Sounds like planning for accidents, right? We clearly cannot plan for all of the unexpected opportunities that may come our way, but what we need to do is analyze the unplanned opportunities that come out way and search for a pattern of some sort. We need to figure out the commonalities and devise a strategy that increases the chances of the random becoming less random, possibly even somewhat predictable – serendipity.
If we acknowledge that chance and circumstances beyond our control often do play a part in our success and allow ourselves to open our eyes to more opportunities whether we planned for them or not, we will create more serendipitous space.

Imaginal Leader Cells

Graphic Recording By Kelvy Bird


Yesterday I had the distinct honor of spending the day learning with The Value Web. One of the discussions involved the work of Imaginal Labs and the work of Carolyn Buck Luce and Rob Evans. When first seeing the word “imaginal” my thoughts were drawn to “imagining” or having an “imagination.” I quickly learned, however, “imaginal” is a biology term. The imaginal cells and the Blue Morpho Didius Butterfly 🦋 were the inspiration for Imaginal Labs. 

I am way over-symplifying here but basically imaginal discs (cells) are what allow the caterpillar to metamorphosis into something completely different – the butterfly. Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues except for the imaginal discs, those discs use the protein-rich soup all around them to fuel the rapid cell division required to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, genitals and all the other features of an adult butterfly or moth. The imaginal disc might begin with only 50 cells and increase to more than 50,000 cells by the end of metamorphosis.

So, when thinking in terms of “imaginal” it is about creating new ideas and concepts of things that do not yet exist. As leaders we must do this at times. We must also be able to use our “imaginal leader cells” to iterate or metamorphosis the innovations and creations of our organizations. I like the way the Imaginal Labs puts it: 

“We believe that courageous leaders are the Imaginal cells within their organizations to help them transform to meet the challenges of our times.” ~ Imaginal Labs

Are you an Imaginal Leader?

Kaleidoscopic Adventure

Yesterday, we had our annual Focused Leader Academy (FLA) Summit where Cohort #2 graduated. Our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) at Hoosier Academies Network of Schools provides leadership skills the ability that are flexible and relevant no matter the situation and time. We want to inspire with valuable and effective methods for assisting our teacher leaders in discovering what they need to become focused and disciplined leaders. Over one hundred were in attendance because Cohort #1 and our newly selected Cohort #3 were there too. Additionally, we have each FLA member’s significant other in attendance as well. I dubbed the theme of the day to be: “Kaleidoscopic Adventure
.” We have used toys as through-lines all year and I thought it only too appropriate to use a kaleidoscope for the finale. Of course I gave everyone their very own kaleidoscope. We started with an activity of looking through the kaleidoscope and the thinking about what words they would use to compare the view through the kaleidoscope to their personal leadership journey. Ann Semon set up a text poll for us. Here are the results: 

Our adventure has been like that of a Kaleidoscope – colorful glass pieces or prisms in the end of a Kaleidoscope, the core characters don’t change, but can be moved around to fit the needs and personal development of team members in order to deliver great experience.
Additionally, we can use the same Kaleidoscopic through-line to describe the complexity of a school – enchantment, mercy, grace, trust, generosity, ease, truth, alliance, learning, and passion.
Our schools are like giant kaleidoscopes:

  • Schools are always moving, ever changing, and made up of simple parts that have highly complex results. 
  • They are beautiful because of the “dynamic complexity” that takes place every minute.
  • Even with the same common elements – hallways, desks, students, schedules – no two are exactly alike and they are beautiful because of their uniqueness.
  • When you look at them from the outside, they are relatively simple. When you view them on the inside, they are amazingly complicated.
  • Kaleidoscopes are fun and meant to be shared! 

Then sometimes I think we need an inside-out kaleidoscope—a de-fragmenter— this might be useful for looking at a fractured order through a lens of unity. 

For me personally, yesterday represented a spin of the Kaleidoscope. A new Cohort of beautiful pieces come into FLA, and the view gets even more complex and beautiful. Yesterday I tweeted that I was blessed to be able to form great relationships with our teachers. I mean that, and it is very important to me.

School leaders need personalized care. Remember, I believe everyone is a leader. Therefore, everyone in the school needs personalized care. When I personalize the care, I come away knowing my leaders better, sensing their concerns about the school, education, and about their own lives. I believe in the fundamental strategy of personally training individual leaders, particularly teacher leaders, to be the key for a strong, healthy school with effective leading of learning and family engagement. Many times we rationalize that the teacher leaders are too busy with their jobs and families to spend time with us. But the truth is, we are allowing ourselves to be swamped with the immediate and losing our priorities.

Cultural Paths

file-1 4Another thought process around adaptive cultures that I pondered during this past week’s Learning Innovation Lab 2017 Summit was cultural paths of employees and team members. This was such a deep thought process for me, as a person who believes in intent-based leadership and making sure employees are fully developed. The philosophy is that there are three cultural paths:

  1. Identity Oriented
  2. Contribution Oriented
  3. Practice Oriented

As I began studying the Sita Magnuson graphic recording of the session, I realized that two of the identities that I had always thought led to great cultures in teams can really be detrimental over time, particularly if not complimented by a Practice Oriented culture. After reflecting, it really makes sense that in the long haul a practice oriented culture will keep team members and employees growing and flourishing. file2-1

With Identity and Contribution Oriented cultures employees can become burnt-out, broken, and defeated. The problem is that with Identity Oriented cultures, individuals who are uniquely gifted end up working alone and having threatened identities and working alone. With a Contribution Oriented culture each individual has valuable skills and the focus becomes all about focusing on opportunities to innovate and lead change. While these things all sound good and most of us have probably been part of these types of cultures, when you begin to analyze and way these orientations against that of Practice Oriented, we realize there is a better way.

file1-1 2What I found when pondering a Practice Oriented culture was the theories that I really believe in in organizational leadership. A Practice Orientation really revolves around developing employees in real-time while actually doing work that matters for the organization. Developing this way enables learning and mastering work with others. It enables team members to be doing important work that really matters for the organization. In this way, employees grow and flourish while actually doing the work.

While at first the differences might only seem like semantics, at closer inspection I found that the differences have major implications to the organization. Identity and contribution are important for sure (in fact we should find way to help people on all paths), but without actually considering the real-work of the organization and intentional development of the employees while actually engaged in that work, they lack the important opportunities for learning and growth. These are the key ingredients to keeping employees engaged and from becoming disenchanted.

Adaptive Cultures

file-1 2I began a new journey of learning today and let me just say it was awesome. Today I became part of the Learning Innovations Laboratory (LILA) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I have been watching and admiring the work of this group that is a consortium of leading researchers and practitioners in the field of organizational learning and change. To be asked to be part of such a distinguished group in very exciting. I certainly admire the mission of this project of: Bringing together the leaders of organizational learning to develop a greater understanding of the field’s current challenges. Today I attended my first session which was the 2017 LILA Summit. This event, which was held at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, was the culmination of the work done this year around the topic of Adaptive Cultures. Next year’s topic that we will be studying was announced today and is: Emergence In Organizations: Shaping The Future As It Unfolds.

file-2 3

Gert Jan Hofstede

I want to reflect here on a discussion we had as a small group at the end of the day today that was on the question: How do we get from cultural practices to cultural values? This question was posed by Gert Jan Hofstede. Gert is a Dutch population biologist and social scientist in information management and social simulation, interested in the interplay of the contrasting forces of cultural evolution, societal change, and cultural stability. Bottom-line, he is a genius and I was excited to be learning from him today.

 

I must admit, however, when I first heard his question I thought he had it backward. Don’t we need to get our cultural values straight first, then get the practices in place? But, as the discussion ensued I realized I was wrong. In most organizations and social structures there are already cultural practices in place. So, there must be a matching, shift, or discover of values in order to get practices in line with values. We used a small group sharing best practice of each telling a story from our own experience. I told the story of my own school network and how a new culture needed to be developed where basically a free for all of everyone doing their own thing with no real direction had existed.

Furthermore, I told how we used teacher leaders in concert with stakeholders to develop a guiding set of core values. I even mentioned how I believe the statement “students first” in many ways hurts education. I cannot count the times I have heard someone answer “students first” to the question of how to do something or how to develop a process. Let’s be clear here, “students first” is a core value, not a task or tactic. Just saying “students first” without a process does nothing. In fact, it probably does more harm. Now, please understand I do believe in the core value of “students first,” but we must have the cultural practices in place to do just that. That’s why I now have grown to like Gert’s original question of how to get from cultural practice to cultural values.

In this example, we really started over by developing the cultural values and then building the processes to be in line with the cultural values. A point made by Gert that really resonated with me was that we have to watch make our cultural values banners that we fly to answer everything, like my “students first” example with know real cultural practices to support the cultural values.

Another key point that came out of this discussion was that in an organization cultural practices are more important than values. As a believer in having core values and making decisions based on these values I had to get my mind wrapped around this. In the end, however, the group was right because without practices the values are just words spoken or written on a page. We need to look at cultural values as the drivers. These should drive our actions. Our values will also show our perceptions.

We then discussed others in the group’s stories. Some were more societal than organizational. Then the question of: Why do we bother? came up. It is tough because as Gert pointed out, “You can only surf on the waves of where society is going.” We discussed reframing the cultural values by looking at what the backdrop is. We also discussed this as a tactic when dealing with adaptive cultures. We discussed that there is a big difference between the cultural value of “saving the planet” and “preserving the natural landscape.” Sometimes we can, and do, have the same values, but are looking at them through different lenses.

We must recognize the fractal nature of culture – there are cultures within cultures within cultures within cultures. Additionally, creating a culture where we can interact a lot with a lot of different people is important. If we interact a lot, we influence each other. We have leverage with those we frequently interact with and they have leverage over us. The person(s) with the most diver set of connections will always make better decisions. Who talks to whom and who interacts with whom matters. For adaptive cultures we, as leaders, have to be around the edges nudging. We must also be humble and realize we do not know everything.

To summarize our small group discussion we did a cool activity and developed a tweet representative of our learning. Here is our tweet: “Values derived should drive cultural practices and then inform leadership.” #LILAculture17 What is driving your organization’s culture and informing you as a leader?

Tell Me Why I Am Wrong!

Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 7.35.32 AMIn his great book, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, Warren Berger discussed the idea that dissonance can be more valuable to leaders and organizations than resonance. We always think about jumping straight to buy-in or consensus, but the idea of having team members push back has tremendous value. I have always believed we should question the views of those with whom we disagree. We need to do this however with yet an open, curious mind. Berger suggested we ask things like: Why might they see the issue this way? Why do I see it differently? What assumptions are we each operating under?AMBQ-Hardcover-Paperback_edited-1-768x634

I have always had two trade-mark questions that I like to ask when making decisions or trying to design new ways of doing things. These two questions are:

  1. Tell/convince me: Why am I wrong?
  2. Can you please talk me out of this?

These two questions have really served me well over the years. It is amazing how many great ideas I have gotten to improve the project or question I am grappling with at the time of asking these questions. The beautiful thing about these questions is that sometimes I am wrong, but many times I get just the right ideas to make something great or keep me from being wrong.

An example of this is a decision I just made official yesterday. As you know we have a program I started two years ago called the Focused Leader Academy (FLA). At its founding we decided to have 15-18 participants selected each year by an application and interview process. This would give us approximately 10% of our teaching staff going through this intensive leadership training each year. We just completed our second cohort and are ready to start Cohort #3. Well, we had 34 applicants, which is the most ever. Long story short, because of the many different complexities of our school, I had the wild and crazy thought of, “Why not accept all 34 candidates and have that many more great leaders developed in our school?” As you can imagine, there are many implications to making a decision like this. Not the least of which are: financial, keeping the experience special, logistics, group dynamics, and managing a group this size.

So, I literally started making phone calls to some of my most trusted people and former participants of the group and asked three things:

  1. What if we accepted 34 participants into Cohort #3 of FLA?
  2. Why would it be wrong to accept all 34 into Cohort #3 of FLA?
  3. Please talk me out of accepting all 34 into Cohort #3 of FLA?

I might add that I also randomly selected some of the applicants and asked the same three questions. I thought is was important to hear the feedback from those that would be most affected by my decision.

Here’s the deal: yesterday I sent congratulatory notes to all 34 and made Cohort #3 of FLA the largest of our history. Why? Because no-one convinced me it was the wrong idea. Most importantly, however, I got all kinds of great ideas on how to make it great with 34 participants. And… even more importantly, I got great advice on how not to let the experience flop with 34 participants. And… from my financial team we already have it figured out how to make it work from a financial standpoint.

I found it interesting that I had one group that was somewhat against at first and one individual that was adamantly against, but after long conversations with both they both came to the conclusion, and I quote, “You don’t have a choice; taking all 34 is the right decision.” Keep in mind these were just conversations sharing versions of ideas. It is about me hearing negative feedback and ideas, not me trying to convince. When entering uncharted waters, I (we all) need my assumptions challenged.

Here is one of my favorite excerpts from Berger’s awesome book that reinforces this idea of dissonance:

“In sharing early versions of an idea with the world at large, one is likely to receive negative feedback—which some people interpret as evidence of a failure. But that’s not necessarily true, says Harvard’s Paul Bottino, who points out that when it comes to feedback, “dissonance can actually be more valuable than resonance.” As people push back on your idea, it can be a good indication that you’re entering uncharted, potentially important territory—because you’re more likely to get negative feedback (“That could never work!”) on ideas that challenge common assumptions. “Dissonance is the most misunderstood kind of feedback,” Bottino says. “We really should welcome it and learn to make the most of it.” ~ Warren Berger in A More Beautiful Question

I love Merriam-Webster’s definition of dissonance: “lack of agreement – the dissonance between the truth and what people want to believe.” When I ask team members to tell me why I am wrong, I really want to know. I usually want to really believe something will work or be a great idea, but I need to know the truth about roadblocks and potential pit-falls.

Finally, I do not want you to leave this post thinking I am suggesting throwing out the important of resonance. Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Resonance is the positive emotional affect of leadership. Those who are led by resonate leaders are in harmony with the leader’s emotions. Great leaders are effective because they create resonance.  Resonance comes from the Latin word resonare, to resound. Effective leaders are attuned to other people’s feelings and move them in a positive emotional direction. They speak authentically about their own values, direction and priorities and resonate with the emotions of surrounding people. Under the guidance of an effective leader, people feel a mutual comfort level. Resonance comes naturally to people with a high degree of emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management) but involves also intellectual aspects.

Remember, we owe it to ourselves and our organizations, as resonant leaders, to model and allow for dissonance when incorporating Berger’s framework of asking:

  • Why?
  • What if?
  • How?

Asking beautiful questions will enable us to lead beautiful organizations!