Byron's Babbles

What The H@#* Is A Team Player?

I almost always write a blog post on the Fourth of July. Today, however, I first thought that my topic had nothing to do with the day honoring our nation’s independence, but on further thought, I believe it does. I’ll let you be the judge after you read it.

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has said to me “he’s not a team player” or “she needs to learn teamwork.” These are very easy statements to make, but a lot harder to substantiate. Usually I even think the person making the statement understands less about teamwork than the person he or she is making the comment about. When I hear this, I always like to ask “What do you mean?” Most is the time the response I get reveals a very limited view of what it means to contribute to a team. Generally, the person making the statement wants the other person to fully concede to another way of thinking. And, if you’re paying attention, they will also use language like “reaching common ground,” as if we are looking for the best campsite.

Recently, I had a friend posit the reason individuals refer to others as non-team players is because it’s the easiest statement to put someone on the defensive. When thinking about the times I have been called out as not being a team player, it has put me on the defensive. When examining this subject in that light it really does reveal the ignorance of the other person’s understanding of team effectiveness, compromise, and consensus building.

If team effectiveness is the capacity of a group of individuals has to accomplish their own and their shared goals and objectives, then we must acknowledge the dichotomy that exists. Teams are made up of individuals and those individuals come with their own values, experience, and goals. That’s what made the melding together of the group that we call our nation’s founding fathers so powerful.

“The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.” ~ Patrick Henry

I’ve studied many former leaders extensively and the greatest of those leaders understood the difference between teamwork and marching orders. Teamwork should allow for diversity of thought and allow exposing the best of each individual. Again, as I said earlier, teamwork relies on style and strength differences of all individuals. Right now I am reading The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of The Senate by Robert A. Caro. In this study of power one sees that Johnson’s use of power and definition of teamwork is that of being loyal to him (Johnson). Real teamwork does not involve loyalty to a person or “marching orders.” These “marching orders” shut down new ideas and results in only doing the bare minimum.

Caro also laid out for his readers the fact that sometimes consensus can be reached by compromise and other times it absolutely cannot. In those times when it can’t, there must be a consensus built from scratch. In reality, many times compromise becomes a power struggle where some have to give up to accommodate others to get what they want. If this happens enough, it becomes a power struggle, not teamwork or consensus building.

Finally, the Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 people. Those 56 people did not have the same views. We must remember that not any one of these could have successfully lead us through the revolution. It took a team!

Seeing What Others Don’t See

Posted in core values, Courage, Democracy, Freedom, George Washington, Global Leadership, Leadership, Visionary, Visionary Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 22, 2020

The best leaders see things that other leaders don’t see. At least I believe this to be true about the leaders I most respect. Recently, I heard it said of George Washington that he was an idealist and saw things as they should be. If we think of idealists as seeing the full potential in others and organizations, I certainly agree. Idealists are visionaries. Think about it, Washington’s vision for our country was visionary because there was not any other country out there to copy off off.

The part that really impresses me about Washington, however, is that he was also a pragmatic leader. He was a practical thinker. When he took over the Virginia Regiment and then the Militia he had to focus on the processes necessary to achieve the vision. Both times he was given groups of undisciplined/unruly men that he had to create the processes of rule, order, and training.

While Washington was that rare leader that possessed idealism and pragmatism, I believe it was his ability to truly inspire and mobilize people that separated him from others. Also, he was able to keep his ambitions in check – most let ambitions for power, position, money, or status wins out over purpose and core values. Washington might be our true shining star role model for this.

As I was studying for this post, I came across a quote credited to French novelist, Marcel Proust: “The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.” This quote could certainly apply to great visionary leaders and Washington. In doing more research, however, I found this was a paraphrase and not what was actually written in Proust’s novel.

The quote is paraphrased out of Proust’s seven volume novel, Remembrance Of Things Past (1923). The actual phrase is in Chapter 2 of Volume 5, The Prisoner, and is actually referring to art instead of travel. You might disagree, but I believe the actual passage to be more meaningful than the paraphrased version. Here is the actual transcript:

“The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is.”

Proust was an incredibly talented and artful writer. His writing in this novel gives us another way to think about the leadership of Washington. He was seeing our country through another set of eyes - not just using the same paradigms that were known by all at the time. As an artful leader, Washington was able to envision what great things our new universe, a democracy, would behold for each of us.

Today, if we truly want to embrace one-of-a-kind ideas in a world of copycat thinking, we need to see the things that others don’t see.

Reflecting On Our Presidents

“The Republican Club,” by artist Andy Thomas, was personally chosen by President Donald Trump to be displayed in the White House.

Andy Thomas Democratic Club presidents painting Image of “The Democratic Club” painting by Andy Thomas

It has been an incredible 2020 President’s Day. I had to drive to Nashville, Tennessee this morning so I had lots of time to reflect on our Presidents. My son and I were together this past weekend and reflected on the Presidents in the paintings displayed in this post. We pondered what they were discussing and thought about how great it would be to have conversations with these Presidents. As I got closer to Nashville, I reflected on the leadership of Andrew Jackson. I had the chance to go to The Hermitage last year and to the site of The Battle of New Orleans the year before that. There are certainly things that I would not have agreed with Andrew Jackson on, but there is no question he was a great leader. I blogged about his leadership in “Old Hickory” Leadership.

I had a great day tweeting questions every hour or so related to our Presidents. There was some great interaction. Here’s the questions I asked throughout the day:

  • Who was our U.S. President the day you were born?
  • Who were the U.S. Presidential candidates the first time you were able to vote?
  • If you could have dinner and a conversation with any past or present/living or deceased United States President, who would choose?
  • If you care to share, who was the first U.S. President you ever voted for?
  • Who has spent time in the Oval Office with a U.S. President? Is so, which one?
  • If you could add another U.S. President to Mount Rushmore, who would you add?
  • Are you reading about any U.S. Presidents right now? If so, which one(s)?
  • Have you finished any great President autobiographies or biographies lately?
  • What is your favorite Presidential Library you have been to?
  • What do you consider the best book by or about a First Lady of our great nation?

Wow, until I typed them out here, I had not realized I had asked 10 questions today. I can’t resist telling you that our 10th President was John Tyler. He became President in 1841 when William Henry Harrison died. He was the first Vice President to succeed to the Presidency after the death of his predecessor. How about that for some President’s Day learning? It was sure fun reflecting on the past and how our Presidents have affected our lives and this great country we call home.

Declaring Beliefs & Attitudes

Posted in Civilized Disdain, core values, Democracy, Discourse, Global Leadership, Leadership, President’s Day by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 17, 2020

John F. Kennedy was President on the day I was born

Trying to make sense out of political trends or political culture is very tricky at best. We see trends over time, but they are not always absolute. I’m not sure there is any longer a “typical American.” There are many indicators that become tendencies, but there are probably more exceptions. The bottom line is that there are many factors that influence Americans when they cast their secret ballot. I’ve been reflecting on this on this 2020 President’s Day.

Family certainly plays a role. Think about the Kennedy’s who were staunch Democrats. Think about the Bush’s who are die hard Republicans. When I look at my own son’s political views, he certainly has not fallen far from the proverbial tree. But, you can look at other families where the children go to the complete other side of political views. One only needs to study President Ronald Reagan’s children. We do know, however, from research that parental beliefs do have great influence on children’s political beliefs.

One thing is for sure, Americans have a great deal of political power. More than most realize. As Joe Biden always says, “All politics are personal.” Therefore, since it is personal and a conversation, then every American has a voice. First of all, and most importantly, everyone needs to vote. Voting is the most fundamental form of civic engagement in a democracy. Voting is an expression of your beliefs and also has consequences based on choices.

Machiavelli taught us to “declare.” I have always practiced this – there is never a mistake where I stand on something. Others just tell others what they want to here. Beliefs are those closely held ideas that support our values and expectations about life and politics. Our attitudes are affected by our personal beliefs and represent the preferences we form based on our life experiences and values.

In a democracy we have an obligation to “declare” these beliefs and attitudes. At the same time, however, it is important to respect those with differing opinions. I did not say agree with, I said respect. I have blogged about this in Civilized Disdain Vs. Political Correctness, What Can We Create Together, and Typical Discourse. Our beliefs and attitudes over time become a set of norms and core values that solidify our political and societal views. This in turn forms how we believe should happen in our society or what the government should do in a particular situation. Remember, your views are important and valued.

A Time To Fish & A Time To Mend Nets

Posted in Democracy, Leadership, Lyndon B Johnson, Power, Robert A Caro, Sam Rayburn by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 9, 2020

During my reading time this week, the story was told about Sam Rayburn in The Path To Power by Robert A. Caro that he liked to use the Biblical axiom, “There is a time to fish and a time to mend nets.” I had heard this axiom before, but really got to thinking about it after I read this. What he was saying, I believe, was that there was a time to be getting the work done and making the deals and there was a time to be building relationships and helping others to grow as leaders. I have already blogged about the inspiration from Caro about Sam Rayburn in “Sam, Be A Man” and Silence Is Golden.

img_7815-1In Mark chapter 1 in the Bible, one set of brothers, Simon and Andrew, were busy casting.  They were fishing.  The other set of brothers, James and John, were mending.  All four of these men were fishermen, but at the time, they were not all occupied in the same activity of their profession. Two of them were casting and two of them were mending. I believe that there are some important lessons that can be learned from this story. You don’t catch fish while you are mending.  In the lives of those fishermen mending time was considered a necessary evil.  No fisherman wanted to be mending, all fishermen wanted to be casting.

Mending nets was/is tedious work. It was/is routine, likely daily work. Spreading out the nets, sifting through them. It involves repairing holes, retying knots, and cleaning out debris. To say the least it is tedious and monotonous. This was the “grind” behind the glamour of fishing (if there is glamour in that). Just like fishermen, leaders have tedious and mundane work that has to be done in order to be effective. But, it’s the little things that must still be done. Furthermore, sometimes we keep doing the mending work and things still don’t go the way we want. We need to remember to go back and keep mending nets. We must keep trying. In Luke 5 we find another story where Jesus tells the fishermen to go out to deeper water after having fished for hours without catching anything. They followed the advice and caught so many fish their nets were full and breaking. This teaches us to keep trying and not give up. We also need to lead like Jesus and keep cheerleading our teams to keep trying.

Fishing is a powerful leadership metaphor. Fishermen are courageous and dedicated. If you’ve ever fished you know how frustrating it can be. My son and I have fished all day and caught nothing. We’ve also fished all day and not caught anything till the last hour. It was a good thing we kept fishing. I am sure you can compare this to whatever leadership work you do. Additionally, we cannot forget the teamwork that fishermen exhibit. They do not let one person do all the work. So, what have we learned from these fishermen and there being a time to fish and a time to mend net? The importance of staying at it, in good weather and bad, in lean times and lush times. They also knew there was a time to mend the nets and prepare for the next load of work.

Loving America

Posted in Civil War, Civilized Disdain, Community, Democracy, Global Leadership, Leadership, Political Correctness by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on July 12, 2019

Recently, I was in a group that had individuals continually bashing the United States. Keep in mind these were fellow U.S. citizens. I really have a problem with this; our country is not perfect, has things to improve on, and people with different values and ideals than mine, but I love our country and would never speak ill of it. This is not me challenging their motives because they hold a different worldview than mine, but that I would rather there be a discussion of specific beliefs and differences in opinions. I wrote about this while celebrating on country’s birth on July 4th in 2015 in Civilized Disdain Vs. Political Correctness. When studying our history it is found that we have become an incredible collection of states and people because of our, sometimes violent, differences.

I finished the great book, The Field Of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road To the Civil War, by Joanne Freeman, a couple of weeks ago and learned about the very violent confrontations in our legislature over differences. These differences led to physical violence. Freeman’s research-based approach to this book tells us of how debate and disagreements would break down into violent fights, including duels, canings, fist fights, knife fights, and all out brawls. None of this took place in a state of vacuity; the media of the time were involved as well as other prominent figures. All the actors in this book, I believe, had a great love for our country, but were in a time when this barbarousness, while not accepted by all, still took place. These differences ultimately ended in a Civil War, that ultimately tested our bonds of union and democracy.

Loving the United States, or anyone’s country for that matter, well means taking her seriously and working to preserve what lovely about her and to help to fix what is not. Instead, for many, their love of their country is conditional. As long as everything is on the course they choose, they are full of patriotism and love and enjoying all the traditions and ceremonies. Conversely, when things are not going to the liking of these individuals, they have no respect for our officials, our ceremonies, or our traditions. So, if the love of one’s country is conditional this way for some; I would argue that it is not love of country, but love of self being substituted for love of country.

My love for my State of Indiana and the United States is not transitory. There can be no falling in and out of love. Even when I am disappointed or working very hard to make things better, my love is permanent.

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.

Reflections From My Son On Martin Luther King, Jr.

Quotations From Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last weekend my son was doing homework and asked if he could discuss his answers to an assignment with me. Of course I was a willing participant. It turned out to be a great discussion and chance for me to learn just how values driven and principled my son had become.

It was a great English class assignment where the students were given nine quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and asked to react with what he/she believed the meaning of the quote was or how to use the quote to make the world a better place. I thought it was a great assignment for reflection. I was so blown away by our discussion that I asked my son if I could share his answers on my blog. He said yes! So, on this day that we honor Martin Luther King, Jr., here are some quotes and some reaction from my son, Heath:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

This shows how a person should stick to his or her core values and principles when in a time of challenge. This quote is as good today as back in his time.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

This explains how we need to get along and not fight within. We need to be united and not be separate.Because if we don’t, we will all go down as fools. This is also a good quote to relate to today in our current political environment.

“A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

This just shows that we need to be willing to go all in on our thoughts and beliefs. As Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death. The quote is saying they you need to be committed to what you believe in and be ready to die for it.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

This shows that you have to be comfortable even when you aren’t comfortable. You have to be able to take a chance even though you don’t know how the end result will be.  

“Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false, and the false with the true.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

We need to practice civilized disdain, where we understand each other’s differences and respect the different opinions of each other. This will allow us to work together and reach consensus.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Do your research to know what all sides believe in and knowing the details of the issue.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Even if we see an injustice of someone or something that doesn’t affect us personally we still need to be concerned and help those who are being hurt.

“I have a dream that one day…the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

He wanted all cultures and races to come together and understand each other and respect each other. 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

It doesn’t matter where you come from or what zip code you live in we all are fellow human beings. He wanted people to not judged by the race or color but by how good of a person you are and their skills and talents.

Hopefully you’ll take some time to reflect like we did. Today, we honor Martin Luther King, Jr., the de facto spokesman of the Civil Rights Movement, for his key role in directing our nation closer to its goal of equality for all.

Dad & Lad In The Who Dat Nation

Posted in Andrew Jackson, Community, Courage, Culture, Democracy, New Orleans, New Orleans Saints, Who Dat, Who Dat Nation by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 19, 2019

img_4636My son and I had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans, Louisiana last weekend to watch the New Orleans Saints beat the Philadelphia Eagles 20-14 in the NFC Divisional Game. We are huge Saints fans because of Drew Brees, but have also fallen in love with the Who Dat Nation. We had our first taste of this last year in the NFC Divisional Wildcard Game where New Orleans defeated the Carolina Panthers. I am amazed at the following of the Saints by this city. New Orleans needs the Saints and the Saints need New Orleans.

img_4721

We also had the opportunity to see former Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco honored at the game for keeping the Mercedes Superdome Open and the Saints in New Orleans following Katrina. Blanco knew she would take a hit politically if she green-lighted the renovation of a football stadium at a time when most New Orleans residents remained displaced, businesses were shuttered and the city could not provide basic services. She also knew, however, that keeping the Saints was important to economy of New Orleans and would be an inspiration to the city. During the ceremony at the game she recalled saying, “Not on my watch will we lose the Saints.” This took incredible vision and political courage. Really it was just plain leadership at its best.

During our visit my son, Heath, and I took in all the New Orleans culture and talked about how important New Orleans was as a port for both the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River. New Orleans was important to the founding of our great nation and had to be defended in the early 1800s and was won in The Battle of New Orleans in 1815. We discussed how grain would come the Ohio River out of Indiana to the Mississippi River to New Orleans in barges. Once the grain was sold the barges would be disassembled and the lumber sold because at that time there were no engines to push the barges back up the Mississippi.

This was a great discussion as we stood at the base of the bronze statue of Major General Jackson. He led our troops to victory at the Battle of New Orleans. This was really a full circle for my son and I’s study of Andrew Jackson. Last year at this same time we were at the battlefield where the Battle of New Orleans took place. Then, a month ago we were at The Hermitage in Nashville Tennessee, and now back in New Orleans.

img_4723We love spending time learning about different cultures and history. My son even got to see his dad be a man of his word. A man walked up and told me he liked my shoes. I bit and he wanted to bet me $10 he could answer some questions about my shoes. Long story short, I lost – I knew I would. I paid him the $10 for the shoe shine. I paid him because I had given him my word. My son commented that others would have got mad, but he knew I wouldn’t because I had given him my word up front. About as high a claim you can get from your son, don’t you think? And…I got my shoes shined and waterproofed.

We immersed ourselves in the Who Dat Nation. We watched locals making cigars in the cigar factories. We took in the local architecture and culture of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. We had breakfast at Cafe′ Du Monde – a French Market that has been in business since the early 1960s. We walked and talked to the many artists in Jackson Square.

All of us come from different zip codes ad cultures. My son and I were so blessed to have had this experience for a second year in a row for one reason to learn so much and the second to spend quality time together. I hope that opportunities like this one helps my son to understand about the different ways that people live and do things. This hopefully translates to Heath understanding that there is no single way or right way to do the same things.

Amazingly, Forbes tells us in “5 Top Reasons You Should Travel With Your Kids” that from 2008 to 2012 parents traveling domestically with their children has declined from 31% to 26%. Here are the five reasons that we should travel with our kids:

  1. Make them citizens of the world.
  2. Get them to eat weird stuff.
  3. Expose their brains to diverse languages.
  4. Build their confidence and independence.
  5. Increase their tolerance to discomfort.

We need to make sure our children and students have the opportunity so they understand there is a world that exists outside their own.

“Old Hickory” Leadership

General Jackson’s Home At The Hermitage

Our family had the opportunity to visit The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s farm and home, near Nashville, Tennessee, this past week. We love going to historical sites of past presidents and this one of our seventh president was awesome. General Jackson’s, as we learned he wanted to be referred as, home is very well preserved and cared for. Our tour guide, Stewart, was incredible and very knowledgeable. To be on the farm where General Jackson worked, stand outside the room where he met with other presidents, and be next to the bed where he died was awe inspiring and caused a great deal of reflection about the leadership of this great American.

Some praise his strength and audacity. My son and I had learned about his great military leadership prowess this time last year when we walked the grounds of the Battle of New Orleans where General Jackson led the defeat of the British and soaked up all the history. We learned how his servant leadership, dedication to his troops, and toughness gain him the affectionate title “Old Hickory”. Others see our seventh President as having been vengeful and self-obsessed. To admirers he stands as a shining symbol of American accomplishment, the ultimate individualist and patriot.

Andrew Jackson, the President, believed republican government should be simple, frugal, and accessible. As President he was very accessible and was know as the people’s President. By 1835, President Jackson had reduced the national debt to a mere $33,733.05 and would eventually pay it off, making him the only president to ever accomplish that feat. He was an ardent supporter of state’s rights, and individual liberty fostered political and governmental change, including many prominent and lasting national policies. Many believe it was his stubbornness and tenacity to keep fighting for what he believed was right that made him a great leader. There was a lot that happened in our great country under the many leadership roles that Jackson held during his lifetime. We can agree and disagree on his decisions and policies, but it is important to reflect on the General’s leadership influence and learn from our history.