Byron's Babbles

It Is What It Is

Posted in Artist, Creativity, Curiosity, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 20, 2023

Those who know me well, know that I sometimes use the phrase “It is what it is.” When I use it I really do mean it. I never use it as an excuse or explanation for inaction. For those who hate the phrase, hear me out. A character, Reuben, in the great historical fiction novel, Threads West An American Saga by Reid Lance Rosenthal often uses that phrase. The context is usually that there is nothing that can be done so an alternative needs to be created. An example was wanting to use a shorter trail, but an avalanche had block the trail. Reuben commented “It is what it is” and began plotting a new way up the mountain. For me, recognizing something for what it is begins to make it possible to get creative with alternatives. I’ve always believed I use and believe the phrase because of being comfortable with the unknown. Sometimes we have to let things exist in their uniqueness. Sometimes there just is not an objective answer.

As a creative/artistic person I am okay with things being ambiguous. If something has the potential to unfold into different actual states than its current state it may very well be ambiguous. By allowing things to be ambiguous we get a richer, more nuanced understanding of them, which may lead to a new insight or invention. “It is what it is” can suggest a world of possibilities.

“It is what it is” is a statement of potential. The statement indicates acceptance of complexity and ambiguity. It can also be an anthem to accepting limitations. Sometimes we can’t control everything. Sometimes things just are what they are. By recognizing that we can add to the statement and say, “It is what it is, but we can…” Sometimes the contexts we are put in are malleable. We cannot control everything in our lives and organizations, but we can make a choice to learn, grow and become a better version of ourself.


Egalitarian Leadership

Posted in Curiosity, Educational Leadership, Egalitarian, Global Leadership, Ideas, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on July 15, 2022

Yesterday during the first gathering of a new leadership development group I am working with, one participant said she was intimidated because of only having three years experience. I quickly told her that her experience was important to the group. Either the three years experience or only having three years experience will matter. Relative inexperience and experience do matter. The point here is that valuable insight and great ideas can come from anywhere, and the status of the person proposing it isn’t a reliable indicator of its worth.

In the case of education, first year teachers can have great ideas and principals can have terrible ideas. It can go the other way too, of course. This because ideas are egalitarian. We need to look to the team for ideas and direction when faced with a decision, plan or project that needs a consensus. In the case of our group yesterday, we had 329 years experience in the room. With that much experience a simple “What do you think?” what do you think is a great place to start for insight and ideas. Never forget that your organization’s community will be even more invested in seeing positive results if they have taken part in the creation and development of whatever happens to be going on.

Don’t Be A Courage Crusher

Posted in Clarity, Courage, Curiosity, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 20, 2022

Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates by Karin Hurt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A courageous culture becomes a community where individuals are engaged and finding, developing, and using their full potential. I love that “courage crushers” were called out by Hurt and Dye very early. Sadly, I have worked in organizations with these types. These are toxic environments, as you pointed out. Also, I loved the thought of creating a courage oasis.

I have always been big on the point of there needing to be clarity. This became very evident during the pandemic. As Hurt and Dye pointed out, there cannot be curiosity without clarity. It was also discussed that with clarity of goals, processes, and roles and responsibilities comes a safe place.

Finally, I loved all the tips and real examples sprinkled throughout the book. For example, I loved the example of the “magic button” for employees to use to provide feedback and give ideas. If we truly want organizations and communities where everyone is engaged, we must provide safe place where those we serve can be courageous. Everyone needs to read this book, but if you are a “courage crusher” PLEASE read this book!

View all my reviews

Plum Crazy Leadership

What would happen in our busy corporate world if we had more opportunities to allow wisdom to emerge instead of either believing we have to already know everything and convince others we do, or controlling the atmosphere of our corporate cultures so we can be more productive? We can do this! In a recount of his journey through corporate life at Hallmark, Gordon McKenzie introduced a timeless analogy about plum trees and pyramids. The book is Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace.

He reminded us that most organizational charts look like a pyramid. He also reminded us that the pyramids are tombs. That’s a pretty huge reminder. Important people at the top and the not so important at the bottom. A reminder of this is when organizations say they want leadership from everyone and then create “leadership teams.” I thought everyone was a leader and the whole organization was a team. These types also always want to call themselves a family when really… People don’t stay in these organizations very long because they don’t want to get crushed and entombed by the pyramid.

MacKenzie argued that great organizations were like plum trees. Great metaphor because for one thing, a plum tree is a living thing. The plums are the products or services and the branches are all the teams. The leaves (I added this part) are the people who make it all happen and keep the organization thriving and alive – just like leaves do photosynthesis. Then, the trunk supports the whole tree. Novel idea, right? Actual it’s a plum great idea! See what I did there?

MacKenzie also taught us to practice what he called “compassionate emptiness”. Compassionate emptiness is a state of nonjudgmental listening and receiving of others’ ideas, thoughts, opinions, burdens, and worries. I’ve only met a few who were truly masters at this. Fortunately, I got to work for one of the few very early in my teaching career and I believe it helped to shape me into who I am today. To practice compassionate emptiness takes courage. There are boundaries to cross, impasse to acknowledge, and the admission of idiocy.

Unlike the pyramid, the plum tree is a living organism. It is flexible and can adjust with the times. In the plum tree, the service providers, talent, and product producers make up the top of the tree. They have sunshine, they have air, and they can see from their vantage point. They produce the fruit (cash crop). The plum tree can create opportunity through support of those that are closer to the solutions. Note this is intent based leadership – those closest to where the data is created should be making the decisions. So, it’s not plum crazy to wonder why more organizations don’t operate more like a plum tree.

Being Childlike

The other day during a Zoom meeting I said that I thought that I had matured a little over the last year. Then, one of the participants said, “Well, just don’t quit being childlike.” I thought about that and actually wrote it on my notepad. Now, as I come back to that note I guess I look at being childlike having all to do with growth, curiosity, and feeling free enough as individuals to be ourselves without unduly formed restrictions. Those things really have nothing to do with maturity and all to do the positive qualities related to children. Things like innocence, trusting, unguarded, or being vulnerable like a child. It also means taking off the many masks of propriety imposed within our society that limit our creativity and sense of exploration. I do allow myself to play, and to be silly.

I probably wouldn’t have written a blog post about this, but when reading yesterday in Mo Rocca’s awesome book, Mobituaries, yesterday he wrote that someone had described Sammy Davis Jr. as being childlike, not childish. This made me think more about the difference. Sammy certainly was fun, relaxed, spontaneous, creative, adventurous, and silly. At the same time that he was entertaining us he was doing a lot of great things in the world. Certainly not childish behavior. Childlike, yes; childish, no.

Therefore, being childlike has everything to do with growing, being curious, and being ourselves without those unduly formed restrictions that society wants to place on us. I sure hope I don’t grow out of being childlike!

What’s The Next Step?

“You don’t need to have all the answers but you do need to have a next step.” Sabrina Horn told us that in her great book Make It, Don’t Fake It: Leading With Authenticity For Real Business Success. I discuss this with teachers a lot. Some in the teacher development arena will tell new teachers they need to have all the answers. This advice includes faking it and not letting students know the teacher doesn’t know the answer. This is very bad advice. Just as this is not true in Sabrina’s world as a CEO, it is not true for teachers. Some of the best labs and lessons I had as a teacher were when something didn’t go as planned. I would say, “I have no idea why this didn’t work, but let’s all dig into this and figure it out together.” The students and I learned so much from this humble act. It was so much fun and I was modeling an important leadership skill for my students. All leaders would do well to learn this.

This humility does not show weakness or confidence. It shows we recognize something pretty obvious – no one knows everything. The great leaders know what they don’t know and understand there are things they don’t know they don’t know. But, learning from and with others, asking questions, and asking for help are hallmarks of an effective and humble leader. This growth mindset modeled curiosity, collaboration, and a plan for discovery with my students. This same mindset also worked for me as a principal and superintendent. Many times the next step might be pausing to learn the answers together as a team.

Collaborate Instead of Coercing

The face of a man, David Marquet, who believes we need to get rid of the old definition of leadership.

During my morning study time today I finished reading the great book Into The Raging Sea: Thirty Three Mariners, One Megastorm, And The Sinking of El Faro by Rachel Slade. Because of my belief that everyone is a leader, everyone needs to read this book. Slade did an amazing job of chronicling the October 1, 2015 loss of the 790 ft U.S. Flagged container ship El Faro in Hurricane Joaquin. The 33 on board all lost their lives and the loss sent shock-waves through the marine industry. I don’t want to spoil the inspiration of reading the book, but Slade explains in detail what happened plus a great many other details and history of the merchant marine industry. Her research included the many conversations on the bridge from the last 26 hours prior to the sinking of the El Faro from the NTSB Voice Data Recorder (VDR) transcripts. Those conversations on the bridge illuminate what went on in the last hours. Slade described in detail how the recovery of the VDR from the 15,000′ ocean floor of water was a major accomplishment.

So why should every leader read this book? The ship’s master, Captain Davidson, had a lot of experience but was known for not listening to the officers and crew. Never forget, it is important for leaders to listen more than they talk. In the transcripts of conversations on the ship’s bridge the officers seemed afraid or, at the very least, reluctant to challenge the route of the captain and a glaring lack of a culture for obtaining important feedback from the officers and crew. The captain had clearly not cultivated a culture that the officers felt safe to give feedback on any items they were concerned about. The transcripts showed that the officers had opinions on safer routes to take, but were never able or comfortable enough to communicate these in a way to make them so. Thus, the ship sailed right into the eye of the hurricane and its ultimate fate. Please note that I have way over simplified this story, but you need to read the book.

As I read Slade’s great book I was reminded of my friend and mentor David Marquet’s great leadership acumen and his incredible book, Leadership Is Language. In his book, Marquet uses the sinking of the El Faro as an example of leadership gone bad. David taught us that outdated top-down language from the Industrial Age playbook of leadership probably played into the terrible tragedy of the El Faro. This is another book every leader must read. Without spoiling all the content let me just say that Marquet argued that once we commit to a small step, we humans can’t help ourselves but to continue to commit in that decision. It’s just the way our brain works. We become stubborn and stick to it, even in the face of evidence that the course of action is failing. He taught us to build in pause and reflect stops. Think about it. If the crew had felt safe in a culture designed as a safe place to speak up, the alternative safer routes would have probably been chosen. Leaders must collaborate instead of coercing.

Finally, when we, as leaders, can admit we don’t know, we allow the team to admit that they don’t know. It also allows a team member to admit they DO know. Leaders must be looking for and encouraging divergent thinking. Remember, trust must be a verb before it can be a noun. I just blogged about this in Trust Is A Verb. Are you trusting your team and encouraging curiosity from everyone? To use one of David’s questions, “How can we make it better?” I had the opportunity this past week to be with David on a webinar with teachers from Canada and was reminded how important it is to move from the old definition of leadership that involves directing the thoughts, plans, and actions of others (see featured picture) to what he describes as “embedding the capacity for greatness in the people and practices of an organization, and decoupling it from the personality of the leader.” Lets get to decoupling.

Natural Curiosity

Posted in Curiosity, Education, Global Education, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 10, 2021

Curiosity. Everyone is born with it; it’s innate and natural to every child. But somewhere along the way, many lose their sense of how to use curiosity to expand their minds. I would even argue that there are things we do in education that cause our young people to lose or give up on their curiosity. When we reach school age, answers become more important than curious thought. Today, I had a person in a meeting describe me as being open to my natural curiosity. I’ve got to admit, I took it as a compliment to be described as curious. I am a very curious person and try to be curious every day.

Curiosity helps us to discover new ideas and open up new avenues and possibilities. Additionally, curiosity brings excitement into our lives. So, how do we stay open to our natural curiosity? We need to make time for curiosity. Part of that time needs to be for play. This gives us the opportunity to explore. Curious people can always find something interesting to explore. Being curious can help us be less judgmental. Curious people as focused on exploring options rather than just trying to be right and have someone else be wrong.

We also need to ask lots of questions. We need to channel our innate child-like curiosity and do more asking of what, why, who, when, where, and how to get at the big-time secrets of the world. Those that are curious are not afraid of questions and being wrong. Finally, the curious never stop learning.

Tomorrow. And The Day After Tomorrow.

Posted in Creativity, Curiosity, Global Leadership, Imagination, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 17, 2021

I am reading a great novel right now about an alien from the planet Vonnadoria who takes over the body of Professor Andrew Martin. I’m not going to tell you much more than that about The Humans: A Novel by Matt Haig because I would recommend reading it and I don’t want to spoil it for you. What I can tell you is that it is eye opening to think about some of the stupid things we do, or don’t do, when seen through the eyes of a much more advanced species. Just to give you a for instance, have you ever thought about the fact that contemplating about the weather is the chief human activity?

This morning as I was reading I was struck by something the alien said, “I mean, this was the species whose main excuse for not doing something was ‘if only I had more time.’ Perfectly valid until you realized they did have more time. Not eternity, granted, but they had tomorrow. And the day after tomorrow. And the day after the day after tomorrow. In fact I would have had to write ‘the day after’ thirty thousand times before a final ‘tomorrow’ in order to illustrate the amount of time on a human’s hands” (p. 197). This made me think that sometimes we don’t appreciate “tomorrow” near enough. I realize that we don’t know for sure if we have tomorrow, but I have to say, the odds are in our favor. Research even shows that putting something down, taking a break from a creative session, or just sleeping on something can help our imagination or creativity. So why don’t we do it?

The alien went on, “The problem lying behind the lack of human fulfillment was a shortage not just of time but of imagination. They found a day that worked for them and then stuck to it and repeated it, at least between Monday and Friday. Even if it didn’t work for them—as was usually the case—they stuck to it anyway. Then they’d alter things a bit and do something a little bit more fun on Saturday and Sunday” (p. 197). If you’re like me when I read this, I felt a little stupid. Kind of spot on, don’t you think? By the way, the alien proposed a pretty good solution when he said, “One initial proposal I wanted to put to them was to swap things over. For instance, have five fun days and two not-fun days. That way—call me a mathematical genius—they would have more fun” (p. 197). So, why do we, as a species, admittedly, have a lack of imagination?

We need to think beyond fulfilling the bare minimum requirements with what we bring to the table. What can we do that is a bit more memorable, with a bit more flavor and a bit more of an impact on everyone, the basic just won’t cut it. We’d be better off experimenting. The cost of bringing something new to the metaphorical table is, of course, you’re going to make someone uncomfortable, change someone’s routine, or upset somebody. The trade-off for experimenting with new ideas, creating new ways of doing things, or working on something new is that you will make something valuable and unique, but what you create won’t be for everybody.

Having just said that about being creative and experimenting I have to include the last thing the alien said about our week, “But as things stood, there weren’t even two fun days. They only had Saturdays, because Mondays were a little bit too close to Sundays for Sunday’s liking, as if Monday were a collapsed star in the week’s solar system, with an excessive gravitational pull. In other words, one seventh of human days worked quite well” (p. 197). As I write this on Sunday morning I’m thinking, yep, that’s about right. If we want to be comfortable and blend-in, doing what we’ve always done is the safe bet and a great way to do just that. But if we want to stand out and do things more uniquely, we must embrace the fact that we’re going to be uncomfortable and make others uncomfortable doing so. We must understand and be okay with the fact that the cost of valuable and unique might be turning off somebody, somewhere, who doesn’t want to be uncomfortable themselves, or who don’t believe their comfort should be the cost of a great idea.

Do You Feel Like I Do On Christmas 2020?

Heath & His Milking Machine!

Here it is, Christmas morning on Day 288 of the Global Pandemic in 2020. It’s easy to get caught up in all that is chaotic in the world right now, but I also want to pause and reflect on this day of the celebration of birth. This is the day that many of us celebrate the birth of Jesus. This day has, and will continue to serve as a day of birth to many new interests for kids. Think about that Lego set or rocket model that spurs an interest in engineering or being an astronaut for a little girl. Or, the electric keyboard that encourages the musical aspirations of a little boy.

I realize there are more significant influences on a child’s career choice than toys or the things they play with on Christmas morning as kids. But, children need access to a healthy play diet. It’s why I believe programs that make sure children get a toy at Christmas are so important. Playing boosts a child’s belief. No child plays with Legos and learns how to build houses, but she might learn how to overlap bricks to create a stable structure. Or, her brother and her might decide how to change the design of the picture on the box as they build. It’s more about confidence and familiarity than an actual skill set.

Toys and playing can compliment attributes in our children such as having their own mind, standing up for their own beliefs, showing initiative, having goals, and finding passion and purpose. I was reminded of all this while reading Peter Frampton’s incredible book, Do You Feel Like I Do? A Memoir, this week. Early in the book he told the story of his dad playing Father Christmas. Their tradition must have been to put the presents at the foot of the bed and his dad was making noise with the wrapping paper. Peter woke up and busted his dad. Of course, no kid’s going back to sleep, so he began to play with acoustic guitar Father Christmas had brought him. I loved the last part of the story in the book when Peter Frampton said, “But I didn’t know how to tune the bottom two strings. Dad said, ‘It’s three in the morning; can’t you go back to bed?’ ‘No, no, come on!’ So he came in and tuned the two bottom strings for me. And from 3:30 in the morning on Christmas when I was eight years old, I haven’t stopped playing since” (p. 11). Was that where the career of an awesome and very talented rock star was created? Probably not completely, but it certainly played a part in his development, or Peter would not have told the story. For one thing, think of the morale boost for a kid to get a musical instrument from his parents. Wow, my mom and dad believe I have talent!

Of course, all of this from the father of the boy who got a milking machine from Santa. In my defense, that was what he asked Santa for. But, that little boy grew up, and is now studying Animal Science at Murray State University and has a respectable herd of Jersey dairy show cattle. Did it all happen because of the milking machine that we assembled on the living room floor and then carried to the barn that Christmas morning? No, but Heath has never forgotten that Santa invested in his interest of dairy cows. Thus, the intersection of purpose and passion were beginning to be defined for Heath.

Now, let’s not overthink this. The most important thing is to make sure our kids have the chance to play. If they have specific interests, great, but it doesn’t have to be a guitar or milking machine. Let’s let kids play with a wide variety of toys and give them the opportunity to discover their interests, passion, and purpose.