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.

 

It’s All Superlatives

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

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

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

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

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

Are We Best Friends?

Posted in Benevolent Leadership, Best Friends, Boston Legal, Conversational Leadership, Forgiveness, Friendship, Listening by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 11, 2019

Do any of you remember the show Boston Legal? It was one of my favorites. The comedy-drama ran for five seasons from 2004-2008. The show focuses on the personal lives of the upscale lawyers and their cases of the law firm Crane, Poole, and Schmidt. Recently, when our cable was out and we could get no channels, my son and I were on the phone and he said, “Dad you know we have a SMART TV so you can watch episodes of some of your old time shows.” I have to admit that I didn’t know that. Then he explained how to get to the shows and that this is what leads to people doing what is called “bingeing.” I also have to admit, I did it – binge watched Boston Legal. It was great and there were so many things said in the show that made me think. So, of course I had to blog about it!

At the end of each episode there is always Denny Crane (William Shatner) and Alan Shore (James Spader) sitting on the balcony in cool white chairs, which are called Bubble Club Chairs – that you can buy, by the way, drinking bourbon and smoking cigars. The talk is funny, but very deep and meaningful. In Season 2, Episode 8 Denny says to Alan, “What I give to you, I do with no one else (speaking of their time on the balcony each night and ultimately about their friendship). I like to think that what you give to me you do with nobody else. Now that may sound silly to you. But, here’s what I think is silly, the idea that jealousy or fidelity is reserved for romance.” Alan replied, “…But gosh what I get from you Denny. People walk around today calling everyone their best friend. The term doesn’t have any real meaning anymore. Mere acquaintances are lavished with hugs and kisses upon a second or at most third meeting, birthday cards get passed around offices so everybody can scribble a snippet of sentimentality for a colleague they barely met, and everyone just loves everyone. As a result when you tell somebody you love them today, it isn’t much heard. I love you Denny, you are my best friend. I can’t imagine going through life without you as my best friend. I’m not going to kiss you however.” Like I said, some funniness to it, but also very deep.

What does it mean to be a friend, a best friend, or to love, I mean really love, someone today? Do those terms, as Alan Shore lamented, really have any meaning any more? I’m not sure they do. In fact the balcony seen at the end of this episode has caused me to really reflect on my own definitions of love and friends. I’ll bet you were recently passed a card and asked to sign it and you may have thought to yourself, “I really don’t know this person.” I’m not saying that giving birthday cards is bad, but have we become a society of trivializing friendship and love?

So, I ask the question that Alan asked; does the term “best friend” have any real meaning any more? I believe to be a best friend is a privilege not to be bestowed on everyone. Showing another human being that you care about them and that their happiness and presence in your life is important to you on a regular basis is, though it may seem obvious, is a fairly big commitment in practice.

Remember how much easier it was to have a best friend in high school or college? You were with them every day. I find it difficult to be a good friend. Life seems to have a way of inserting itself and does a pretty good job of prying us apart. I think of all the times I’ve said, “We’re going to get together.” But, then never do. I’m a little, actually a lot, envious of Denny and Alan being able to sit on the balcony every evening at the end of the work day and philosophize. The lesson that can be learned from studying the characters of Denny and Alan is that being a best friend involves compromise, trust, and a mutual growth that allows certain friends to last through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Really, friendship is a peculiar type of love. There is no real binding commitment to the opposite person other than what you are willing to put into the relationship. I really do think the term “friend” doesn’t have as much real meaning anymore. How many times have you had someone start a conversation with, “As a friend, you need to know…”? Many times there is not the friendship to be making the observation. That’s why, as the person on the receiving end, it upsets us. Again, we learn from Denny and Alan that a true “best friendship” allows us to:

  1. Love you for you
  2. Listen to understand
  3. Be accepting
  4. Be genuine
  5. Appreciate the humor

Do you know and appreciate the value of your best friend?

Known Knowns, Known Unknowns, & Unknown Unknowns

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep Learning In Alberta, Canada 🇨🇦

Yes! I took this picture. I did not want to leave.

This week my family and I have been in southern Alberta Canada working out of Calgary. It has been awesome. Read Calgary Stampede: Invented Tradition & Cultural Tradition and From Yahoo To Hoodoo. From the beautiful mountains, forests, prairies, canyons, Canadian Badlands and foothills, it has been awesome with all this in one place.

Three of Alberta’s five UNESCO World Heritage sites are in Southern Alberta: Dinosaur Provincial Park, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. We have now seen them all. What a couple of days of deep learning. This was some of the most spectacular scenery we have ever seen. We followed the Canadian Rockies all the way south to Waterton Park.

On the way south we stopped at Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley, Alberta, Canada, for a tour and to learn about their “farm to glass” process. Tania hosted us while we were there. They have tours to learn the processes for making their products, videos showing the raising and harvesting of the grain, and just a lot of this awesome Canadian hospitality we’ve been talking about. Everyone we encounter becomes our new best friend.

We learned that Eau Claire Distillery raises its own Barley on 35 acres and does all the planting and harvesting using horses. They also raise all their own rye on the distillery’s owners ground. Tania also explained that friends come out to help with the harvest. I’m in! Now that I am a friend, I want to come back and help harvest. As an agriculturalist, I am such a believer in “farm to table” and “farm to glass” opportunities. We must use every available opportunity to educate the consumers of our products about the origins and processes it takes to get food and drink to the table. From what I have now experienced at the Calgary Stampede and Eau Claire Distillery, I must say that our Canadian friends are doing a great job of this.

Everyone, however, has a responsibility to educate themselves and expose themselves to all the different things that are out there in our world. We are certainly enjoying making new friends, learning from them, and learning more about our friend-nation Canada.

From Yahoo To Hoodoo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary Stampede: Invented Tradition & Cultural Phenomenon

IMG_6251One of the events I have wanted to attend for a long time is the Calgary Stampede. Yesterday that dream came true for my family and I. I had to come to Calgary, Alberta, Canada and speak at a research conference this week; so we decided we would make this our family vacation and get here in time to experience the Calgary Stampede. What an experience it was!

 

I also had the unexpected surprise of having a Smithbilt hat box at the hotel waiting on me when I got the hotel. I had been presented with the iconic Smithbilt Hats, Inc. White Hat representing friendship. This tradition was started in 1950 by Calgary Mayor Don MacKay. I wore it proudly all day at the Calgary Stampede, and will wear my White Hat of friendship proudly all week. Actually, I wear a cowboy hat every day back home on the farm.

To start off with we were able to walk out of our hotel, step across the street and get right on the Calgary Transit System’s, CTrain. Fifteen minutes, and Ten stops later we were exiting the CTrain and walking across the street to Stampede Park. This was just about as easy as it gets. I am a huge believer it public transit transportation and this experience to and from Stampede Park validated this. The CTrain cars were super clean and comfortable. We are looking forward to making use of this system throughout the week. Calgary had one of the earliest transit systems in North American and it is evident they have done it right.

IMG_6272Now, back to the Stampede! We were immediately greeted and made to feel welcome by the Calgary Stampede International Agriculture and Agri-Food Committee. We discussed the agriculture industries in our countries and we were given access to the hospitality area that we visited during the day and met many new friends from around the world. The Stampede is an ideal vehicle through which respect for a locally-grounded tradition can be integrated with the active promotion of the values it embodies. Specifically, these include western hospitality, commitment to community, pride of place, and integrity. This committee of the Calgary Stampede is getting it right for agriculture.

IMG_6270Then it was off to Elbow River River Camp to take part in the morning flag raising ritual. This was an incredible experience of learning cultures of the Siksika, Piikani, Kainai, Tsuut′ina, and Stoney Nakoda First Nations. It was great to connect with Indigenous culture and experience First Nations culture through stories, art, tipi life and culture, and other events. This was an incredible learning experience for my family and I. While some outsiders have claimed that native culture as being commercialized, the Calgary Stampede has actually proved to be an important factor in preserving it. IMG_6244IMG_6277It was then off to see the sites; go to the Junior Steer Classic, check out all the exhibits, walk the Midway, and check out all the food options for some lunch. It was all pretty overwhelming. The Stampede is truly an invented tradition – an activity that is accepted by the public as having a particularly long and resonant history and as representing something essential about a nation’s character, values, and identity. The Stampede symbolizes the ideals of rural collective purpose, sociability, and community. These invented traditions develop from the need to reconcile the constantly changing nature of our world with our desire for stability. The Stampede presents new values or shows us how old values apply to new situations.

 

One of my favorites was the Blacksmith Showcase. This was a great way to experience and learn what blacksmithing is all about. This was found in the Country Trail of the Agriculture Zone. We learned so much and even got to watch as a blacksmith made the hat pictured here for us.

 

Then came the signature event: The Calgary Stampede Rodeo. Little did I know we were going to be part of the richest rodeo and see the championship culmination of the week. One million dollars in prizes with $100,000 to the winners in each of the six events: calf roping, bare back bronc riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing, saddle bronc riding, and bull riding. Additionally, it was awesome to hear the Calgary Stampede Show Band perform at the rodeo. This is an incredible youth program that gives these young adults great experiences throughout the year to perform and gain leadership experience.

 

The day ended with the awesome GMC Rangeland Derby Chuckwagon Races, more looking around, visiting with our new international friends, and an awesome fireworks show. Needless to say, we did not want to leave. My family and I rated the Calgary Stampede as one of the best events we have ever been to. It might be the first multi-day event (10 days) event I have ever been to where you would not have known it was the last day, unless you were told. I have always said that a person going to the last day of an event should get the same great experience as the person who attended on the first day. I would argue that the Stampede has evolved into a cultural phenomenon. As my family and I found out, the stampede is not simply attended; it is experienced. It is clear when going through the city of Calgary that the Stampede is by and of the citizens of Calgary. It is also for the world. Starting with the parade, then the fireworks display, midway, stage shows, rodeo, agricultural exhibits that “edutain”, and Elbow River Camp, the Calgary Stampede is the best visual cornucopia I have ever experienced. Well done, my new friends!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soaring Like A Malcontent Eagle

This past Saturday night I got caught up watching the documentary “The History Of The Eagles” on CNN. As a student of rock and roll bands and artists I became engrossed. Particularly when you think about all the artists that were members of the Eagles, like Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and Joe Walsh; or those who influenced and mentored the band, like Bob Seger, Jackson Browne, and Linda Ronstadt. There were so many things that I could blog about after watching this. I took a couple of pages of notes.

One of the things that caught my attention was when the Eagles manager said that Don Henley was a “malcontent.” Henley, however, just wanted the band to keep getting better. A malcontent is someone who is dissatisfied and rebellious. I believe many tines those of us who have a very defined purpose and are very passionate are viewed as, and rightly so, rebellious. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing.

Isn’t a malcontent really someone who is not satisfied with the status quo? Couldn’t a malcontent be that person who sees a need and opportunity for change? Finally, couldn’t a malcontent be a catalyst for change? When all three of these questions get answered with “yes,” that constitutes a person being a productive malcontent.

This is the person who challenges what is being done, but always has an alternative to offer. This is healthy. It’s the person who just complains and fights change with no alternatives that is toxic to the organization or community. So let’s embrace the productive malcontent and be vulnerable to positive/constructive criticism/change for the betterment of our organizations, schools, businesses, communities, or even rock bands.

Triageformational Leadership: New Hybrid Definition of Triage and Transformational Leadership

Screen Shot 2019-06-14 at 2.40.45 PMYou all know how I like to make words up, so here is my latest: Triageformational Leadership. Actually, I made up the word and the definition over a year ago while in a meeting, but am just now blogging about. Does that give you any indication of how long my “want to blog ideas” list is? Anyway, here is the definition: The process of leading by core values to determine and prioritize needed changes so limited resources can be rationed efficiently and effectively to support the organization’s realization of vision and mission.

The important thing to note about triageformational leadership is that that the transformation is done by triaging by using core values. So many times this is given lip service, but not really done. By putting our core values at the forefront of our triageformational leadership we:

  1. determine our school or organization’s distinctives.
  2. dictate personal involvement.
  3. communicate what is important.
  4. embrace positive change.
  5. influence behavior.
  6. inspire people to action.
  7. enhance credible leadership.
  8. shape teaching/employee character.
  9. contribute to educational/organization success.

…it is clearly necessary to invent organizational structures appropriate to the multicultural age. But such efforts are doomed to failure if they do not grow out of something deeper; out of generally held values. ~ Vaclav Havel

So much goes into truly embodying what it means to be a triageformational leader beginning with the sense of community we develop within an organization. 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.