Byron's Babbles

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.

Eccentric and Unorthodox and Quirky! Oh My!

Posted in Creativity, Curiosity, Eccentric, Educational Leadership, Joyful, Leadership, Quirky, Unorthodox by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 17, 2020

Let’s face it, eccentrics are the people who see problems from new and unexpected angles; whose very oddity allows them to conjure innovative solutions. They are the visionaries who make giant imaginative leaps. I’ve actually blogged about this before in Leading With A Touch Of Quirkiness. Ingrid Fetell Lee told us to quit being bound by convention; our quirkiness brings joy to the world. We need to celebrate creativity.

I was reminded of this when flipping through the channels (do we still call them that, or am I aging myself?) after the NLCS game last night and coming across Night Court. Night Court, ran on NBC from 1984 to 1992. Harry Anderson starred as the young, unorthodox, and magic-trick performing Judge Harry Stone presiding over the anything-goes atmosphere of New York Municipal Court’s night shift. I had forgotten about this great show so stayed on the channel and watched some of it. Harry was up on insubordination charges and was described as being eccentric. It was said by the presiding judge that being eccentric is how we become effective and get things done to help others. Long story short, the case was dismissed.

As a person who resembles being eccentric, unorthodox, and quirky at times, this really got me to reflecting on why so many see this as a bad thing and so few dare to be eccentric; when really it isn’t such a bad thing after all David Weeks, psychologist, did some research into the eccentricities of 1,000 subjects. Weeks found eccentrics to be highly creative and that they tend to be optimistic people with a highly developed, mischievous sense of humour, childlike curiosity and a drive to make the world a better place. It would seem to me that we need more of this. Just saying!

Weeks found the study subjects to live slightly longer, suffer less from mental illness, have very few alcohol or drug abusers, and visit the doctor less. Therefore, if we eliminate the struggle to conform we probably suffer less stress. Again, as we learned from Ingrid Fetell Lee, a little quirkiness will help bring joy into our lives. And…into the world.

So, go ahead and don’t be ashamed to be curious, creative, and a little quirky!