Byron's Babbles

Where Were You Era

Today marks the one year anniversary of the COVOD-19 Global Pandemic. We are now officially on Day 366. Yesterday I blogged about the moment when I realized we were in this for the long haul in The Good News Is. I discussed my “Where were you?” moment. Now on Day 366 I believe Joseph Michelli’s describing the events of the global pandemic as a “Where were you?” era in Stronger Through Adversity is a better descriptor. In that same chapter, Dr. Michelli posed the question, “So, what will you remember about the pandemic?”

One of my first deep reflections came in the form of a blog post on May 8, 2020 entitled The Day We Started Down The Path With No Footprints. A year ago our lives shrank and routines were turned upside down, children were sent home from school and parents became teachers for months without breaks. Offices, restaurants, theaters, sporting events and arenas emptied. My least favorite words became “unprecedented” and “pivot.” I still cringe when I hear those words.

Today we are beginning our second year of pandemic life. While things we found to be novelties last year, may not be so cool this year, we still need to find ways think of new and improved ways of doing things. We need to use this anniversary as a profound opportunity to take inventory of what we might have been missing pre-COVID, what we’ve improved, reflect on lessons learned, and acknowledge what we’ve lost or missed. These are very important conversations to have.

Because I believe we all are leaders, I believe we should take Dr. Joseph Michelli’s advice from Stronger Through Adversity and have conversations. He suggested we develop a leadership legacy statement that highlights our optimal leadership impact (competence, purpose, or character). Here is mine that I wrote:

“Hopefully I’ll be remembered as a thoughtful leader who showed love for those I served by providing growth and development.” My Legacy Statement

I would love to hear your desired legacy. Dr. Michelli taught us we need to be having conversations that “…lead to more discussions where you encourage one another, commiserate setbacks, celebrate victories, and problem-solve barriers along your path to realizing your full potential as a leader.” He went on in the book to say, “Productive dialogue can only occur when we ask, find, and share wisdom each of us collects along our journey.” I love having those conversations and learning what others are doing to improve, cope, learn, and take advantage of opportunities during this global pandemic. Let’s keep the conversation going.

Pandemic Tested Lessons

Stronger Through Adversity: World-Class Leaders Share Pandemic-Tested Lessons on Thriving During the Toughest Challenges by Joseph Michelli

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I am a huge believer in intersectional learning. This is the learning that can be accomplished from the commonalities and complexities of different industries, businesses, and organizations. I have always been a fan of Joseph Michelli’s work and books. He has knocked it out of the park with this latest book. This book is the encyclopedia of intersectional learning. I learned and reflected on so many things while reading this book.

I finished the book on the evening before the one year anniversary of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic. We need to use this anniversary as a profound opportunity to take inventory of what we might have been missing pre-COVID, what we’ve improved, reflect on lessons learned, and acknowledge what we’ve lost or missed. These are very important conversations to have. This book gives us the context to have the deep and meaningful conversations to help our communities of organizations, families, and businesses, cope, improve, and find the silver linings.

If you are one who likes to learn from others and then apply that learning to your own context, then this book is for you. He has studied and chronicled, in-depth, the many companies he has worked with, improved, consulted, and learned from. Every leader should read this book.



View all my reviews

The Good News Is

In A Tale Of Two Cities Charles Dickens wrote “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” It’s like Dickens was writing about the past 365 days of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic. Read it again and I believe you’ll agree it is a pretty good description of what we’ve been through.

365 days ago today, March 10, 2020, I realized while enjoying an Indiana Pacers game with some great friends from the Purdue University Krannert School of Management that we were headed for the worst of times. I made the comment toward the end of the game, “What happens if someone in the arena has the coronavirus? Or, what happens if someone on one of these teams has coronavirus?” I guess it was one of those “Where were you?” moments. Well, we found out the very next day. Rudy Gobert, of the Utah Jazz, was diagnosed with the virus on March 11, and the NBA suspended its season following play that night. Also, it was March 11, 2020 that the World Health Organization officially declared the COVID-19 Global Pandemic. Thus began the worst of times.

This morning I read Chapter 20 in Joseph Michelli’s great book (one of the silver linings of the pandemic that you all should read) Stronger Through Adversity. The title of the chapter, “Run Toward The Future,” is such a perfect descriptor for how I, and those I look to as examples and mentors, have been trying to approach this crisis. The book is a great guide on how to continue running toward the future, no matter what field you are in. It was evident from that moment at the Pacers game a year ago that life was never going to be the same. I quickly came to the realization that I was going to have to adapt, learn, grow, and get uncomfortable in order to survive. I was kind of asking myself if I had the wisdom and belief to somehow make this the best of times. I love how Dr. Michelli put it, “Some leaders only ran from danger, while others also ran toward the future” (p. 248). After a few days of getting my bearings, I consciously made the decision to use every day of the pandemic to become a better me. I can honestly say I have grown personally and professionally in the past 365 days in ways that would have never been possible under pre-pandemic circumstances.

Additionally, I made a commitment to be a beacon of hope and positivity for others. Every professional development event, meeting, or gathering I always start with something related to what day of the pandemic it is. It has actually kind of become my trade mark. For me it became and continues to be about looking for the silver linings and helping others find the silver linings. I continue to ask the questions of:

  1. What’s the opportunity after the opportunity? (think about that a little and it will make sense)
  2. What have we stopped doing during the pandemic that needs to be stopped permanently?
  3. What have we started doing that needs to continue?

For example, I’m a pretty good in person facilitator and speaker, but I’ve got to tell you I was apprehensive about going virtual. But overnight, literally, going virtual with presentations was what I did. Now, the opportunity after the opportunity is programs developed to be either in person or virtual, whichever the client wants. And, we stopped traveling for short, less than a day, events in luau of doing them virtually- that needs to continue. Not to mention I have improved my listening skills, ability to remember names, ability to read non-verbal queues, and make sure every voice is heard. My point is the last 365 days have enabled me to improve my craft. For a while in the spring I was doing three and four webinars a day, as we were providing free in-service for teachers. As I was helping teachers learn remote learning best practices, I was becoming a better facilitator. Those days were grueling, but as I look back they were very rewarding. Teachers tell us all the time that was some of the best development they’ve ever had and wish we could go back to offering that much development. Hear that opportunity?

Even though it has been the worst of times, there have been many moments of the best of times. And, we have certainly seen wisdom, foolishness, and belief during the past 365 days. Let’s go back to Stronger Through Adversity, where Dr. Michelli quoted James McElvain, PhD, Chief of Police for the Vancouver, Washington, Police Department, as saying, “Being a leader means you are in the forever business…” (p. 255). On day 365, and who knows how many more days of the pandemic are ahead, we need to be asking ourselves, “How are you running to the future as a leader of a forever business?”

Leading The Michelli Way

I am a huge believer in intersectional learning. This is the learning that can be accomplished from the commonalities and complexities of different industries, businesses, and organizations. I have always been a fan of Dr. Joseph Michelli’s work and books. He has knocked it out of the park with his latest book, Stronger Through Adversity: World-Class Leaders Share Pandemic-Tested Lessons On Thriving During The Toughest Challenges. This book is the encyclopedia of intersectional learning. I am only about 25% through the book, but have learned and reflected on so many things. I have read all of his books, and I have to attribute many of the ideas I have implemented over the years started from the learning I have done from his books.

My goal with this post is to pay it forward and invite all of you to learn from Dr. Michelli. If you are one who likes to learn from others and then apply that learning to your own context, then his work is for you. He has studied and chronicled, in-depth, the many companies he has worked with, improved, consulted, and learned from. Let me just give you one example from the book. Let’s begin with this quote:

“a responsibility alongside other hospitality brands to ensure all travelers who decide to book an all-inclusive getaway will feel confident that they’ll have a safe, comfortable, and memorable experience. Each and every resort or hotel brand needs to stay true to its unique value proposition in the market, yet abide by a common denominator of strict hygiene and safety protocols. Health and safety have always been top priorities among travelers, and now they are key determining factors in a consumer’s decisions to travel.”

Carolyne Doyon, President and CEO of North America and the Caribbean at Club Med

I don’t care what industry you are involved in, the learning here applies. Take the words “hotel or resort,” “traveler,” “travel,” or “hospitality” and change them to those that apply to your organization and the statement applies. When I think of both my policy making and leadership roles in education this statement really applies.

I talk about the value proposition that Doyon speaks of in my leadership training all the time. As a believer in school choice, I believe every school must have a unique value proposition. In other words, why should families choose your school to attend? No doubt, the pandemic has even created new, what I call, competitive advantages.

We have had to contemplate bringing students back and opening schools, keeping students and teachers safe, how to do virtual education or some combination of virtual and in person education effectively, and how to still hold ourselves accountable for the learning and outcomes ALL students we serve deserve.

Dr. Michelli’s book is so timely because we are still working on all this. I was just in a briefing today on the Biden administration’s priorities in education and these items are being contemplated. We need to use the learning from all sectors to help us learn and navigate our course. Stronger Through Adversity gives us the actions of many great leaders. I wish we could have a summit of all the leaders to create action plans for all of us. Maybe he’ll let me pick a couple of leaders and invite me to do one of his podcasts with him. I can dream, can’t I?

As I said at the beginning, this post is intended to serve as my paying it forward for you to check out this great book and the learning that can be gained from Dr. Michelli’s work. Check it out!

Into The Wild Blue Yonder

Here we are on day 323 of the global pandemic. It is also a monumental day in that I am flying for the first time in 328 days. The last time I was on an airplane was March 7, 2020. As I write this I am looking out the window from seat 16A on an Airbus A321 watching the plane be de-iced. Then, it is on to Atlanta to catch a connecting flight to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to facilitate an in person teacher leadership gathering; March 7, 2021 was the last time I did that and it was in Kissimmee, Florida, so I flew into and out of Orlando, Florida. Seems like forever ago. I am still having conflicted thoughts about whether going live is the right thing to do. I get that it’s just hard to beat live presentations as that is where my passion really comes through, but is it safe for me, my family when I come home, or the attendees? And, I’ve gotten pretty good at facilitating gatherings virtually. Time will tell us the answer. Rest assured I am a stickler for masks, physical distancing, and lots of hand sanitizer.

It was important for me to blog about this first time back in the air because I am doing this with a certain amount of anxiety – and I’m usually not someone who has anxiety. Also, I want to chronicle as many of my global pandemic experiences as possible. Last night as I packed I had to think about things I hadn’t thought about for almost a year. Things that were second nature to a person who was flying at least once a week in the past were not routine any longer. Then there were questions:

  • Did I still need 2 hours at the airport before the flight?
  • Would my TSA Pre check still work?
  • What would it be like at the airport?
  • Would I be able to get a Starbucks?
  • Would others really actually be wearing masks?

There were other things running through my mind, but you get the idea with those five examples. I am now in the air and I can tell you that so far the experience hasn’t been too bad. The worst part so far was a month ago just picking the flights. With reduced trips it’s almost impossible to get a direct flight anywhere (I used to be able to fly direct to Ft. Lauderdale from Indianapolis). It is taking me eight plus hours to get from Indianapolis to Ft. Lauderdale today. I did find that, at least right now, arriving two hours prior to the flight is not necessary. There are a lot less people at the airport. I even had my choice of parking places in the parking garage this morning. My TSA Pre worked flawlessly, and that process has even been streamlined to inserting your drivers license into a machine and the machine taking your picture – no one touches anything. Everyone was wearing masks, and yes I got my Starbucks.

With so few people traveling, what normally is a frenetic and sometimes stressful process felt downright relaxed. I got hand sanitizer when I got on the plane and just now was given a baggie containing water, cookies, and more hand sanitizer. I’m going to sit back, relax, and have a cookie. I’ll start writing again when I’m on the connecting flight from Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale. The only thing that causes me worry right now is that you don’t get your seat assignment till you get to the gate. But, I love having no one in the seat next to me!!!

One major improvement that COVID-19 has prompted is the loading of planes from the rear forward. I’ve always wondered why we didn’t do that. Wow, what an improvement. Hey airlines! Let’s keep doing that in the post COVID-19 world. Also, I must throw in that it would be wonderful if you would always leave the seat next to us empty. Again airlines, could you implement that forever? Somehow I don’t think you’ll operationalize my request for that post COVID-19. It was worth asking, nonetheless. Check out this text I got as we landed in Atlanta:

Now I am sitting in seat 44D on a Boeing B757 on the way to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I must say I am a little over the smell of hand sanitizer. It wouldn’t be so bad if there wasn’t a gazillion different scents of hand sanitizers. But, I’m glad everyone is using it, so no more complaining from me. The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was much more crowded than in Indianapolis, but we are now midday as opposed to early morning. I walked around the terminal for a little while, still marveling at the fact that I was inside an airport terminal again after so long.

As I look out the window I’m reflecting on all that the last year has brought to us. Today, I had the experience of flying again. It has been great to witness and experience adjustments that have been made to the airline travel business. My flying experience was remarkably less stressful than I anticipated. The airports and planes themselves were the cleanest I’ve ever seen them. Delta did a really good job of managing the risks associated with flying and, in my opinion, it appeared like the airline had things under control. I loved it when the flight attendant said, “We must do everything we can and take every precaution to care for one another.” Amazing it took a pandemic for us to begin to really think and act this way.

How about you? Have you flown since the global pandemic started? What has been your experience?

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.

Waves Of Change

“Sometimes in the waves of change, we find our true direction”

Unknown
🌊 Destin, Florida 🌊

As I read this quote I thought about how very relevant this is to us all in 2020. Changes from the global pandemic continue to hit us hard. Sometimes things are unexpected and we have to adjust on the fly to changing circumstances. As we ride the waves, the unrecognizable becomes clear, and finding new direction becomesJust as the tide changes, other things in our life can change too, and this can push us towards the path that we were destined to follow.

Change is something we cannot keep from experiencing, but the way we get over the hurdles is where the difference stands. We all have extra obstacles put in the way right now during the global pandemic. The question becomes what are you learning, what are you doing with that learning, and how are you sharing the learning? We must be a community. How are you breaking through and finding the right path?

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.

Imagining The Unimaginable

Last night I had the pleasure of recording a professional growth video focused on student engagement with five National FFA Teacher Ambassadors from Missouri, Nevada, Tennessee, and West Virginia. The goal of our recording was to provide teachers from around the country with ideas on how to keep students engaged right now whether it be in the classroom or in FFA activities. The recording turned out awesome and I really got to thinking about how the teachers were excited about the fixes their FFA chapters had developed for keeping students/members engaged during the global pandemic. We are on day 254, by the way. And, I loved the fact that several times it was the students who came up with the solution or idea for engagement. Make no mistake, though, they are still looking for ideas for upping their engagement game.

We also discussed things that we want to continue post-pandemic, like having members who can’t attend an event in person, for whatever reason, be able to join virtually. We weren’t thinking in that mindset 254 days ago. Things like pandemics, wars, and other social crises often create new attitudes, needs, and behaviors, which need nurturing. I believe in the power of imagination and creativity. Right now there are very few things that are absolute and for sure. We live in a very complex and ever changing environment right now – the future never releases hard data.

What we were really saying in the video was that we must keep imagining every possible scenario. In other words, letting our imaginations go wild. We must be imagining the unimaginable. Think about it; what is happening right now during the pandemic to our society has no precedent, or data behind it. No matter what industry we are in right now we need to continue to be creative and use our imaginations to open the path forward.

There is a silver lining, however. As I pointed out, these five teachers gave us numerous ideas and opportunities the pandemic have made imaginable. All kinds of new ways of staying engaged and connected have been implemented that will continue after this pandemic has passed. Because we will probably never return to our familiar pre-pandemic realities, we need to keep imagining an even better future.