Byron's Babbles

Let’s Have Lunch Together!

Last night we started our third cohort of 3D Leadership in Indiana. Hard to believe we have started our third year. Just seems like yesterday that I began putting the curriculum together for this program. Last night as we were discussing relationship building as a function of leadership, one of our participants, Sarah Medve, shared a story that really touched me and the rest of the group.

Sarah said she realized that she needed to do a better job of building relationships. Sarah also realized that she was missing out on building work friendships and collaboration because instead of taking time to eat lunch with coworkers she was making copies, grading papers, or any of the many other tasks of the day. This great teacher leader explained she has begun making sure all her tasks are done at other times so she can stop and eat lunch with others. Then Sarah told us she had fun eating lunch with others and did not want to miss it. Wow! This is a big deal!

We all do it, though. Work through lunch or sit alone and check emails. Sharing meals together, however, builds relationships. Eating together provides time to get to know each other and encourage cooperation through informal communication. Eating lunch together also increases productivity because it widens our perspectives. Eating together is a powerful act.

Researchers at Cornell University argued that eating lunch together has a much more positive effect on organizational community than the artificial activities that many organizations use like rope courses and things we call team building activities. These things are sometimes offsite and require a lot of energy. The Cornell study showed that employees (in the case of this study – firefighters) make fun of and do not see any value in them (Kniffin, et al., 2015).

This insightful story from our teacher leader reminded us all of the benefits of commensality. Coworkers that eat lunch together feel more like family and build friendships. So, we need to learn from our teacher leader, Sarah Medve, and make time to eat together with fellow teachers and staff. Why? Because, as Sarah so insightfully told us, it is fun and she feels closer to her coworkers. The rest of us leaders need to think more about providing opportunities for employees to eat together and do away with the manufactured and trite team-building exercises.

You might be interested to know that after our gathering we all went to Jockamo’s and had dinner together. It was so much fun and we learned a lot about each other. It was nice to put into practice what we were learning in 3D Leadership. I know I left feeling much closer to the group.

REFERENCE

Kniffin, K.M., Wansink, B., Devine, C. M., & Sobal, J. (2015). Eating Together at the Firehouse: How Workplace Commensality Relates to the Performance of Firefighters, Human Performance, 28:4, 281-306,DOI: 10.1080/08959285.2015.1021049

Finding Happiness Right Where We Are

Posted in Appreciative Inquiry, Boston Legal, Culture, Happiness, Inspirational, Leadership, Reflection, Self Awareness by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 23, 2019

I’m starting this post with a driving question: Should we try to find happiness right where we are, rather than being obsessed with where we are going? This sounds really good, and makes for good print, but does anyone actually do it? Or, can it actually be done? I believe I come close, but still have much work to do.

This reflection came at the end of another episode of Boston Legal – Season 3 Episode 23. The balcony scene with Denny Crane and Alan Shore had an interaction at the end where Denny was worried about getting old and losing his edge (which he often does). Alan said, “Yes, but don’t you think the real joy in life lies in the promise of tomorrow? The young simply have more tomorrows stacked up. That’s all.” Replying, Denny said, “Happiness… is right now my friend. On this balcony, right now. You and me.” Even though there is the paradox of Denny living in the moment of happiness right now and being obsessed with continuing to be undefeated in the courtroom and losing his edge with age, I was reminded we need to live more in the happiness of right now. The other thing to note about the conversation between Denny and Alan is the part of young people having more tomorrows stacked up. While generally true, this is not necessarily always the case. We really don’t know how many tomorrows we have – none of us know that. Thus, a strong case for being happy right now!

Many times, if we are honest, we find ourselves chasing after something not because we actually want it, but because we somehow are made to believe we need it. This could be a thing, clothing, new job, promotion, et cetera. This belief comes from our constant comparing of ourselves to others. This is a natural trap to fall into. Easy to say, “Don’t do that!” Almost impossible to not do. We need to constantly be grateful for what we have and remember that someone else’s success is not our failure.

This is why I am so obsessed with the final scene at the end of every episode of Boston Legal. While it is clear that Denny and Alan are not perfect at this happiness in the moment thing, they do, however, end every day with a conversion on the balcony. That conversation always leads to the happiness they have in the moment with their friendship and things they are grateful for. Alan Shore’s final comment in that part of the conversation was, “I love how you reduce everything in life to… you and me.” Maybe it is as simple as reducing things down to the simplest things that bring us happiness.

What if we began to think of happiness as right here, right now? Let’s start being happy first and realizing our some days and best days are right now. Let’s stop looking for answers, what’s next, and getting there and start enjoying here. Our typical happiness model according to Neil Pasricha is actually backward. He argued in 7 Ways To Be Happy Right Now that we operate using the model that great work plus great success brings happiness. The problem, as we all know is, that as soon as we reach that success we are really not that happy because we are already on to what is next. Pasricha continued to posit that we should start the equation with being happy and then great work and big success will follow. I would add “Balcony time with a friend” to Pasricha’s seven ways to be happy.

Here are three other posts I did reflecting on Boston Legal balcony scenes: Is It Fun Being You?; Do You Have An Inexhaustible Ability To Just Live?; and, Are We Best Friends? Let’s make sure we are taking time line Denny and Alan to enjoy and be happy in our “now.” Let’s all put happy at the beginning!

Manufactured Culture

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

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

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

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

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

Leading With A Touch Of Quirkiness

IMG_6293I finished the awesome book Joyful: The Surprising Power Of Ordinary Things To Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee yesterday evening. It is such a great book that really opened my eyes as to the ways I am already creating joy and need to continue, and the external environments I need to be creating to give rise to inner joy for both myself and others. Two parts of the book had a big impact on me: the idea of playful design bringing joy and not being bound by convention brings joy. Those that know me very well at all know that these are two things that I put into practice almost every day.

IMG_6480Ingrid Fetell Lee taught us to not feel bound by convention; break the mold and bring joy to the world. I believe it is about being a divergent thinker; the ability to generate novel ideas and conjure up multiple solutions to a problem. This is about being creative and thinking outside the box. This celebrates creativity. I have watched this way of operating bring joy to groups doing the divergent thinking and have felt the joy myself when conjuring up new and exciting ways of doing things. I believe we are very guilty in education right now of promoting the idea of one correct answer. This is really promoting when using high stakes summative tests. I get that at some point there has to be convergence of ideas but I believe we take the joy out of learning by not allowing for enough divergence – both in our educational systems and in the workplace. We tend to reward the students who work hard, like learning, are rule followers, but are not going to break any molds or create anything wowful.

Interestingly, childhood creativity has been shown to have a higher correlation to adulthood success than IQ. So, maybe we should create systems in our organizations and schools that value creative, interesting, and innovative answers, rather than the “right” ones. I also believe this mold-breaking thinking allows us to better question ourselves. This gives us the opportunity to be more comfortable with the idea that what we thought we knew could be wrong. This kind of thinking can position us well in our learning, work, and personal lives.

IMG_6481We were also taught in Joyful that being a little quirky and even bring joy. I proved this yesterday when I emceed our Impact Georgia back to school event. I wore my white linen suite that is a little out of character for me. I must say I was looking pretty fly. The look was just enough different from my usual that I believe it brought joy to others which made me feel joyful as well. I also added to the quirkiness by asking a teacher to come up on stage, and I quote myself here, “Take a selfie of us. Make it look like I am holding the camera.” This was of the things I really learned from the book is that joyfulness can be found in some of the most obscure and little things.

IMG_6484I even think about a couple of weeks ago when we were in Alberta, Canada and went to see the worlds largest dinosaur in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada. It was super quirky, but the quirkiness made it so much fun and it brought so much joy that it keeps bringing joyfulness when we look at the two pictures included in this post.

Go ahead and embrace your quirkiness and celebrate creativity!

 

Travel Is Education & BIG Learning

As you know from my previous posts, my family and I are in Calgary, Alberta, Canada right now and have seen and learned a lot. Here are my posts from the previous days:

As you can see, it has been an action packed few days of learning for my family and I. I am speaking and doing a workshop at an education research conference on leadership development here in Calgary and am so glad we came out a little early to do some exploring together.

Yesterday, before the conference we had the opportunity to go to Banff, Banff National Park Of Canada, and Lake Louise. These are two destinations that a person does not want to miss when traveling in Alberta. I am so glad that we have had the opportunity, as a family, to see so many different places and experience different cultures. My son made a comment yesterday about all the new ideas and things he has learned from talking to everyone and taking it all in. This is how we keep the creative juices flowing.

When we are young, like my son Heath, we are still finding ourselves and preparing for our education and career. The skills and experience we gain from traveling can give us life-long personal benefits as well as a leg up in the professional world. I believe traveling, even within one’s state, province, or country builds cultural awareness. Being aware of cultural values and norms is not only fascinating, but can help us understand international issues and conflicts, or even relate to the cultural norms of a foreign business partner. It is an important skill to be able to shift perspectives and see where someone else is coming from. In our globalized world it is so important to be culturally aware.

Yesterday, in Banff National Park Of Canada I learned that they are doing extensive studies on saving wildlife and reducing accidents on the Trans Canada Highway. They are fencing along the road and have built overpasses and underpasses for the wildlife to cross the interstate. Genius! Accidents and wildlife injuries have been reduced. Interestingly, they have found that black bears and cougars like to cross in the underpass and grizzly bears like to use the overpassed. You’ll find a picture of the overpass before this paragraph and a picture of the fencing here:

I get so many ideas when traveling. These inspirations can happen from seeing a sign, talking to a restaurant owner, meeting a local person, or just reflecting and meditating while enjoying the beauty of nature. I believe my creativity and innovative abilities are boosted by just taking in all I can experience. If you’re open and willing, travel will make you an incredibly more well-rounded human being.

Changing The Narrative For Our Students

Yesterday was another powerful day of learning at Harvard University. It started out with Liya Escalera walking us through changing the narrative, valuing the cultural wealth of our underrepresented students in order to achieve equity. Additionally, she taught some great asset-based approaches to leading for student success. The best part was how she had us start this session. She had us reflect on situations in an educational setting that made us feel unwelcome and then reflect on a situation that made us feel welcome. This was a great way to get us in a mode of thinking about changing the narrative for our students. Liya also worked us through asset based communication. Below is a slide that does a great job of showing what our discussion included: IMG_6148Then we spent time digging into family engagement and making families true partners with Stephany Cuevas of Harvard University. We know that students with engaged families:

  • Exhibit faster rates of literacy acquisition
  • Earn higher grades and test scores
  • Enroll in higher level programs
  • Are promoted more and earn more credits
  • Adapt better to school and attend more regularly
  • Have better social skills and behaviors
  • Graduate and go on to higher education

IMG_6149The learning did not stop here. We then spent time with Daren Graves diving into issues of race with intentionality. This was very powerful learning. We discussed how racism can happen without it being intentional. In education we must be diligent in monitoring the areas where we see disparate racial outcomes or impact:

  • Curriculum
  • Groupings
  • Assessment
  • Relationships with students and faculty
  • Relationships with the community
  • Recruitment/Retention

IMG_6157Just like in Thriving Students and Developing & Supporting Our Students: Future Identity Versus No Future Identity here is the top 30 list from our Tuesday learning:

  1. Reflect on a situation in an educational setting that made you feel unwelcome.
  2. Reflect on a situation that made you feel welcome.
  3. Asset-Based versus Deficit-Based Communication
  4. It is a bad habit to not look at all our communication through a critical lens.
  5. What is the problem? The problem is not our students.
  6. Is the problem that our students aren’t post-secondary ready, or that our education system is not student ready?
  7. Cultural competence will not cut it. We need to be highly skilled, not just competent.
  8. We need to make sure all schools are student ready.
  9. Google Translate™ is a good thing, but must be edited, or those reading will feel disrespected.
  10. We need information to go to parents as well as the students.
  11. We need to offer parents parents questions to ask their students.
  12. Our families are collaborators.
  13. We need to have parents presenting to parents.
  14. Have parents talk to each other.
  15. Students need to be thought of as part of a family, and then the family as part of all the practices of the school.
  16. Staff needs to view families as collaborators and partners.
  17. Staff Relationships With Parents + School Knowledge = Family Engagement As Confident Partner
  18. Staff needs to think of themselves as mentors to their parents.
  19. Family engagement is a way of thinking, not a practice.
  20. Family engagement is a value, not just a practice.
  21. There is no gene for race. Science saved the day!
  22. Race is an idea.
  23. Race is not culture.
  24. Race is something that happens, not something we are.
  25. It’s not about doing well in school, it’s about doing school well.
  26. Racism is usually pretty mundane.
  27. A system that confers privilege and produces disparate outcomes on the basis of race.
    1. historically-based systems
    2. actions/beliefs/policies/practices/conceptions
    3. confers visible and unacknowledged privilege
  28. Sometimes we set students up for failure by trying to not set them up for failure.
  29. Start with implicit biases, then move to structural biases.
  30. Racism can happen without anyone intentionally wanting it to happen.

 

It’s Not My Story To Tell

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Hailey showing off her temporary Emoji tattoo

I am writing this post as I sit in the airport waiting to fly home after a few days in central Florida facilitating our last 3D Leadership sessions for the spring semester. I am going to miss doing these in June and July, not just because I love doing them and working with all the great leaders that I have the opportunity to serve, but also because of all the learning and reflecting I am able to do as well. We have had so many great discussion and I have a whole list of topics I want to reflect deeper on and study.

This post is about communication, but not the normal topics related to communication like the leader that talks in espoused cliche´infused declarations like “Students first,” or “Customers first,” “All hands on deck,” or “We need to move with urgency.” Over and over again, they present grand, overarching and fuzzy statements of who really knows what. Too often we assume that everyone shares the same definitions for terms that go on and on like vision, value, move with urgency (does that mean I’m supposed to run everywhere?), teamwork, focus, strategy, and on and on. While it is important for great leaders to get a handle on this communication issue, this is not the focus of tonight’s post.

Tonight, I remembered a statement by one of our North Carolina members, Hailey Odum, made in her first session while reflecting on what she wanted to be as a leader. Hailey said it bothered her when people talk about things they either shouldn’t be talking about, or really don’t know all the details about. She said she does not tell the story if: “It’s not my story to tell.” This really hit me because this is a pet peeve of mine as well.

You know the individuals Hailey and I are talking about here:

  • need to know everything and probably don’t.
  • want you to know they know something.
  • usually don’t have all the details.
  • flaunt that someone called them and let them know something before you, or even say, “I’ll bet they haven’t told you yet.”
  • start with: “I’m not supposed to know this, but so and so told me.”
  • you hear in a meeting an announcement and are told it is not public yet, but you heard a group talking about it the week before with all the details you just heard.

When I look at these items in bullet list form it almost reminds me of being in the third grade again. I am sure you could probably add another six bullet points to this list, but you get the point. Now this is not to say that I do not know things at times in advance of others or that others don’t confide in me at times, but I really do try to use Hailey’s sniff test of asking myself “Is it my story to tell?” If it is not then I shouldn’t. Notice I did not say I don’t because I am not perfect, but I have to say I am much better at applying the sniff test since Hailey pointed this out as a leadership trait that needed to be followed.

This then goes to thinking about how communication is handled. For example if you work in a team, it is probably not healthy for certain team members to find out things ahead of others. If we have to say things like “Oh, I thought you knew.” or “You didn’t hear this yet.” or the worst one “So and so probably didn’t tell you, but she let me know (you’ve just been told you are not worthy of knowing at the same time as everyone else).” Now in reality what we may have just experienced is simply terrible communication skills, but even so, this is a little bit like leadership by the game of telephone. And, because it is probably not the person who is telling you story to tell, things maybe are not represented correctly.

I really appreciate Hailey bringing this up as a topic of discussion because it has now been something that I consciously think about. So next time you know something, or think you know something, ask yourself, “Is that my story to tell?” Nine times out of ten I’ll bet you answer, “It’s not my story to tell.”

Stand Your Ground & Be The Example

IMG_5702Setting an example through your own practice illustrates to others that change is a shared endeavor. True leaders are the pinnacle of what they expect from the people around them. And by setting an example, true leaders encourage their people to aim for that. By walking your talk, you become a person others want to follow. When leaders say one thing, but do another, they erode trust–a critical element of productive leadership.

Great leaders are persistent. Try, try again. Go over, under or around any hurdles to show that obstacles, what I like to call opportunities, don’t define your company or team. This will allow you to create solutions. Don’t dwell on problems; instead be the first to offer solutions and then ask your team for more. 

Furthermore, being the first to change can be challenging. As a pioneer, you have to overcome resistance to the status quo. We humans get used to the way things are. Yet those who dare to rock the boat are in a position of tremendous power, and can send ripples of inspiration out to the world. Lead by example because others will become curious. Remember, our actions are much more persuasive than than our words.

Welcome To Your New Addiction

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What’s At Your Core (Value)?

Where to begin? There is so much I want to say! Yesterday we had a great gathering of our Florida 3D Leadership group outside Orlando at Renaissance Charter School at Boggy Creek. I love going there and spending time with this group. Yesterday’s topic was core values. We spent the morning setting the stage with some cool activities (Emoji tattoos, making graphic mantras) and discussions around core values and what they wanted to do with their lives and what they wanted their legacy to be.

Then, the coolest thing happened – Lunch!

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Our lunch was delivered and catered from Fuzzy’s Taco Shop. First of all, as the truck, bright yellow, pulled up, it caught my eye out the window I had immediately seen the shiny object and was off topic. Check out the picture of the truck and you will understand what I am talking about. So, as they were setting up at one end of the room we were in, I asked one of the workers, Mariah Miller, whether she liked working at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop and if she did, why? Well, let me tell you, she jumped right into our core values discussion and said that she liked it because her boss did not act like a boss and did not want to be called a boss. He wanted to be considered a coworker.

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Graphic Recording by Amy Reynolds

Then her coworker (boss), or leader, as he likes to be called came in, not having heard me ask the question. I called him over and asked him what his workers would say his mantra was (this was a core values discussion from the morning). He then basically reinforced everything Mariah had told us. We were amazed by the message that David Morales had for us in what became an outstanding extemporaneous luncheon keynote, literally.

IMG_8404David explained he had ended up in Florida, via Texas, because he quit his job, and I quote, “because my core values did not match those of the company I was working for at the time.” Of course I am beaming at this point and everyone was looking at me like I had set this up, which I had not. We had discussed how individual and organization core values needed to match. I had said earlier in the day that is was just a fact that if at any point your own core values become much different from the organization you work for, that it was time to quit. He was affirming everything we had talked about earlier in the day, but with the flare of personal experience and a lot of passion.

IMG_5535He then told us about looking for a job and finding Fuzzy’s Taco Shop. He told us how he cut the deal for Fuzzy’s Taco Shop to cater for the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers. He told us about how he has opened 29 businesses. Finally, he explained how core values build communities of commitment. We had been discussing how core values communicate what is important, influence behavior, and inspire people to action. We had also talked about how core values enhance credible leadership. David Morales from Fuzzy’s Taco Shop had become our exemplar. We did not need to spend very much time with his employees to know he was credible.

…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

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Graphic Recording by Amy Reynolds

Core values are what support the vision, shape the culture and reflect what an organization values. They are the essence of the organization’s identity – the principles, beliefs or philosophy of values. Many organizations focus mostly on the technical competencies but often forget what are the underlying competencies that make their organizations run smoothly — core values. Establishing strong core values provides both internal and external advantages to the organization. Clearly, Fuzzy’s Taco Shop and David Morales have mastered this.

Needless to say, we were amazed at this outstanding example of a company and it’s employees living out shared core values. Would you, your organization, or school have been able to extemporaneously keynoted our lunch today with the same level of authenticity related to core values as David Morales, Mariah Miller, and Fuzzy’s Taco Shop were able to?

Are You Setting Precedent?

This week while reading On Grand Strategy by John Lewis Gaddis I came across a phrase from Queen Elizabeth I. She was reported to have said: “It is much better to set precedent than to have to live by it.” I loved this. To me it meant that she understood the importance of being an innovative leader and the power leaders have for setting the course for the future. One precedent she set was to rule by good counsel and trusted advisors. Many times I hear people in meetings saying that we don’t want to set precedent. Well, I say if it is a good thing then we probably should set a precedent. We basically have three choices: sit back and accept the status quo, let someone else lead, or we can lead by setting new precedents.

A great example of the latter was George Washington. Washington was well aware that he had been given the power to shape the American presidency. He believed that the precedents he set must make the presidency powerful enough to function effectively in the national government, but at the same time these practices could not show any tendency toward monarchy or dictatorship. He was said to have commented frequently that, “I walk on untrodden ground.” There are many things that Washington set the precedent for during his presidency that are still in place today. A few include:

  • Being called “President”
  • Presented the State Of Union as a speech (Thomas Jefferson broke the tradition, but Woodrow Wilson started again)
  • The White House protocol still used today of mornings and daytime for business and afternoons and evenings to entertain visitors
  • Because of Washington’s love for being at Mount Vernon, he set the precedent of presidents retreating to their homes or other places.
  • He set the precedent of a maximum of eight years in office (FDR broke that precedent, but in 1951 we made the constitutional amendment for a two term limit)

Never forget, great leadership is about standing for something bigger than yourself, and setting a precedent where it is needed. After all, an organization’s culture, or country’s culture for that matter, is a reflection of its leaders. Which means it all starts with you.