Byron's Babbles

Serving Instead Of Putting On A Show

So, let’s see here; if we are constantly looking up to make sure our boss is seeing and approving of us or bragging about what we’ve done, we’re probably paying less attention to the people we’re now leading or worse yet, our customers. If your organization follows a traditional hierarchy, which most unfortunately still seem too, attention will naturally shift up — be directed up the hierarchy. Ever been a part of an organization where there always seem to be the favorites, you must make sure those high on the hierarchy are hearing every great thing you do, or having to make sure you’ve bragged on those high on the hierarchy? It’s not a good place to be.

In Simple Truth #3, Servant Leaders Turn The Traditional Pyramid Upside Down, in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practice we are told by Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley that great leaders turn the hierarchy over and make those closest to the customer the top of the organizational pyramid. For example, in a school, this would put the teachers at the top of the pyramid. In this model, the principal serves the teachers. Let me tell you from experience, this works. What this ultimately does is place the customer (in my example, the student) at the top of our organizations. This really shifts us to an intent-based leadership model where everyone is a leader. Then, everyone is serving.

Turning Talk Into Reality

To go from talk to action is a journey. We better support ourselves and others when we understand what the journey to proficient implementation really entails. Yesterday my son and I were in Screven County, Georgia for an annual event with the Screven County FFA. Last June I had told the agriculture teacher and National FFA Ambassador, Nancy Sell, that I wanted to be a part of the event. We walked the talk and made it happen. Once I got clarity about the exact date, what else would be going on at that time, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera; I was able to say, “Yes, I’ll be there.” Then, there was no backing out. If YOU SAY IT, DO IT! As someone commented yesterday, “We turned the talk into reality.”

How many times do we hear people say, “I’ll be there.” Then, they won’t be, and you knew all along they would not be. Or, even worse, “I’ll take care of this and __________will happen.” Then when it doesn’t you get the, “I’m sorry, so and so said we can’t do that” “Or, I didn’t know…” This really is a case of faking it. Or worse yet, lying. Michael Fullan (2001) called this “false clarity.” False clarity occurs when change is interpreted in an oversimplified way; that is, the proposed change has more to it than people perceive or realize” (p. 77). The problem with false clarity is we know less than we think we do. We can relate this to walking the talk or turning talk into change/action. So many times leaders see talking as doing. The real work begins when the talking ends. Successful teams make decisions that impact behaviors and produce visible results.

Bottom-line here is that successful leaders move through talk to action!

Fullan, M. (2001). The meaning of educational change (3rd ed.). New York: Penguin Group.

The View From The Bottom Of The Tree

Posted in Education, Educational Leadership, Global Education, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 20, 2021

This is one of those blog posts that has taken me a little time to put together. I could have taken it in so many different directions and there were so many rabbit holes to go down. And, I’ve actually gone down a few of them here. But, the picture (featured in this post) of my niece’s son, Brooks, says it all and makes my point. My mother-in-law gave him a Christmas ornament for his birthday and he immediately got up, went to the Christmas tree and put it on. As I looked at the tree, most of the ornaments were around the bottom of the tree. Why? Because Brooks is two and doesn’t have a very high reach yet. I’ve watched trees being allegedly decorated by children only to have the ornaments moved by the parent, with phrases like “that would go better here,” “there’s too many on that limb,” “we need more at the top,” or “I’ll do that one so it doesn’t break.” What? Are we having a family Christmas memory generating activity or trying to win a decorating contest? And, oh by the way, none of those moves by the parent are informed by research. I googled it – nothing!

When we don’t let the ornaments be put where the child can reach and in her/his mind wants them to go, we are reinforcing the old binary model of one right answer and one wrong answer. Who is to say that the next great decorating craze might not be all the ornaments on the bottom two foot of the tree? Isn’t that the way great things happen? Some creative non-conformist said, “let’s try this instead?” If we want our young scholars to be creative we need to, well, let them be creative! I know, novel idea right? But, think about all the times this does not happen. And, come on, the sun will come up tomorrow if all the ornaments are on one limb. We give tests with questions that only have a right and wrong answer. I get that 4×1 and 2×2 always need to equal four (I think), but what about all the times in life that we have to choose the best out of three or four options?

Here’s another thing. We pesky adults trim the tree and cross the task off the holiday to-do list, but children view the Christmas tree as a modern day living art installation. If you watch children, they will walk by the tree and move an ornament of two. My son used to take ornaments off and then a day later put them back on. I love the iterative nature of this. I get that if you are entering a Christmas tree decorating contest that at some point it needs to be done. Also, I feel very sorry for you being so vain to enter in a Christmas tree decorating contest! But I’ve digressed! Toddlers and young children apparently have very flexible ideas as to what constitutes proper tree decor, and I can’t say I blame them. Think about the person who went wild one day and put cheese on a hamburger – voilà: the cheeseburger is born. Or, my favorite, from my hero, Thomas Edison, “I wonder if we could light the world with a little bulb run by electricity?”

Letting the kids decorate the Christmas tree is an incredible exercise and lesson to us adults in letting go of the fantasies about how the holiday decoration should look and allowing for how they CAN look. It is about living in the here and reality of now. We may not get the Christmas card-inspired tree, but honestly I love a good tree inspired by children. They are an honest reflection of our families. Don’t forget the Christmas tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

History’s Experiments

One of the great books I am reading right now is The Epigenetics Revolution by Nessa Carey. As an animal science guy, I have been fascinated with epigenetics for a long time. In fact, when I was teaching I had a grant project with Purdue University that included epigenetics. One of the lines in the book that really jumped out at me was, “History creates experiments.” This is so true. The book talked about research using birthweight, growth, and maturity patterns following a famine. Other fascinating research is also cited in the book. I just can’t get past this thought, however, of history creating experiments. That is really what history is.

This is why one of my favorite authors, Robert A. Caro told us that we should be reading biographies in order to learn from others. In many ways, what others have done before us were experiments. In fact my own country of the United States is often referred to as an experiment. It is so important to look at all aspects of our history in order to learn for the future.

Another one of my favorite authors, good friend, and just great person, Dr. Joseph Michelli used how leaders led during the onset of the global pandemic as a way to learn about leading in a crisis. His outstanding book, Stronger Through Adversity: World-Class Leaders Share Pandemic-Tested Lessons On Thriving During The Toughest Challenges is in the running for my top non fiction book of the year. Really, all of his books are about history’s experiments in entrepreneurial leadership. You should check out his work – I love it! His work always reminds me how important it is for us to come together as a global community and be learning from each other.

I wonder how many experiments history has created that we have not taken the time or even thought to do the research on. It’s really about using that outer loop in double loop learning – evaluating the learning, creating and sharing the knowledge, and building capacity. Thanks Nessa, Robert, and Joseph for reminding us that “history creates experiments” and the data set to learn from.

Only The Wearer Knows

I love the work of Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans. In the sixth edition of Love ‘Em Or Lose ‘Em they taught us to “Ask so you don’t have to guess.” I quote them on this in my leadership development work all the time. I had a participant in one of my programs this week say, “Byron, that is one of the simplest, yet extremely profound things you have shared.” She went on, “Now, anytime I catch myself even beginning to guess, I just ask.” This and other things going on right now, particularly in the world of our teachers, makes me worried we just aren’t doing the simple things.

I had another teacher say, “Byron it was huge that you put your hand on my shoulder and said, “How are you really doing?” She continued, “It was huge to be asked that by someone who I knew really did care what the answer was and would try to help if he could.” Then she finished with, “Ive not been asked anything like that in over two years.” Wow! Once again, we need to make sure we are doing the simple things. But really these are not simple things they are huge things that don’t cost anything to do. But (another but here) we have to be willing to act on what we hear.

We need to be asking because as Robert A. Heinlein wrote in Stranger In A Strange Land, “Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.” We need to remember to ask because sometimes all we have is cognitive empathy – we only have the ability to understand another person’s perspective. If we’ve not been directly afflicted by the same source of pain or unhappiness we can’t truly truly understand the needs of the person experiencing it. Therefore, we need to ask what the person needs, not guess. Why? Because only the person involved in something can identify the source of some trouble or associated stress.

I know that sometimes it is hard for us to ask or for the affected person to tell us, but this brings up the linchpin to all of this – relationships. It’s amazing that in every discussion about great leaders and those that have had a profound influence on is that relationship building always comes up. If we have the relationship we can then ask like T.C. did to Rick in the latest episode of Magnum P.I. when he said, “Can I ask how you’re doing?” That shows a real desire to understand where the wearer’s show is pinching.

Being Thankful AND Proud

Showing our children we are proud of them is very important. Additionally, teaching them to be humble and modest about accomplishment is critical to their development as well. This is a really difficult dichotomy in philosophy. Character trait development gets tricky. I’m not here saying I know the perfect balance and right approach to appropriate praise and appropriate expressions of pride in a child’s efforts and accomplishments, but I’m here saying that we have an obligation to do it and learn to do it right.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to do some practicing. We started a new chapter in how to spend Thanksgiving. My son couldn’t make it home from college due to responsibilities there and so we made the trip down to Murray, Kentucky (he goes to Murray State University) on Wednesday. Then yesterday morning the other hour and a half to Jackson, Tennessee and spent the day with his girlfriend’s (we still call them girlfriends, right?) family. It was an incredible day and I could make that a tradition each year, but let’s not get in a rut yet. It may just be the excitement that in an hour my son and I will be on Kentucky Lake fishing. You all can have your shopping today – we’ll be fishing.

Anyway, one of the things Heath’s girlfriend’s family does before Thanksgiving lunch/dinner (2:00pm CT) was go around and tell one thing you are proud of your kids for. Genius! Mine: I love that Heath has been able to become a part of another family so easily and fit in. He brings his own cultural pieces to the puzzle but has been able to learn and understand his girlfriend’s family cultural puzzle and made his own pieces fit by understanding and respecting theirs. That’s how we raised him to be – global. We might just have got that accomplished. And, with Heath in the world it’s going to be a little bit better place. We’re proud of him!

So, don’t just be thankful, be proud. And, do the balancing act to show it!

Thankful For The Multitude Of Ways To Connect & Learn

I usually write a reflective post each year on Thanksgiving Day and this year will be no different. As I reviewed some past years’ works to post on Twitter and LinkedIn I became really reflective as I read through “I Count You Twice!”. I wrote that post in 2016, but I am amazed at how much of those thoughts apply even more today. I talked about making sure we were making lots of opportunities for learning available in and out of the classrooms for our young scholars. The last couple of years have proven just how important this is.

As I ponder all I’m thankful for, I think about all the ways we can access learning. For example I just started a writing class (The Source Code of Storytelling) with Rob Hart. His latest book, The Warehouse, sold in more than 20 countries and was optioned for film by Ron Howard. How cool is it that I can learn from this very talented and accomplished writer to better tell stories or maybe tell better stories. Is there a difference? In fact, overnight, I received my first feedback from Rob on my reactions and questions related to his first lecture.

Additionally, I love that the lectures are written. Of course, I highlighted and inserted notes all over the PDF of the lecture I made. In my reflection I even said, “First of all, as an education guy I loved that I was reading a written lecture about, well, writing. How cool is that?” The point here is that I’m learning from, interacting with, and receiving actionable feedback from a great writer! And, as Rob pointed out in his lecture, “Every genre—every book—can offer you something you didn’t know.” As a believer in intersectional learning, I believe these next four weeks are going to be a wild ride of learning. There are already things I have picked up that will enable me to improve my practices that have nothing to do with writing or storytelling.

So, today on Thanksgiving, I give thanks that we have the multitude of ways to connect with and learn from people with the experience/expertise of a Rob Hart. Would I love to personally be sitting down with him and having coffee, yes. But, we know that isn’t always going to be possible (Maybe someday, Rob – and I’ll buy- see I was paying attention!). This way, anyone, from anywhere on planet earth can have access to his treasures.

I am also thankful we continue to make sure these kind of opportunities are available to ALL our young scholars in our schools. I know Rob does great work in the arts, literacy, and education. I want to continue to dream about a world where every child could/would learn from Rob Hart or the likes of a Rob Hart. The more diverse the experiences and people we can have students interacting with the better.

Let’s be thankful, but also let’s continue to push forward making the world an even better place so that in 2022 on this day we are thankful for even more!

Always In A State Of Becoming

My vantage point for EPCOT’s new nightly fireworks display: Harmonious

This week I had the opportunity to go to Disney’s EPCOT. I’ve always been inspired by the creative and imaginative of Walt Disney. I was here for ExcelinEd’s 2021 National Summit On Education. As you can imagine, because of the inspiration of the location, there were lots of quotes and references from Walt Disney. One from EPCOT, which stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, was that Walt Disney wanted to build a community of tomorrow that “would never be completed.” His vision was to have a place for demonstrating and introduce new ideas and systems. What was really jumping out at me was this idea of “always in a state of becoming.” Just like Disney’s vision of EPCOT never being completed, we personally are always in a state of becoming as well as everything around us. This includes education. As the world, society, and what we know from science about how children develop and we learn, our work is never completed. Thus with every day comes the opportunity for becoming – becoming even more incredible than yesterday!

I love this idea of “becoming.” It is so much more liberating than “improving” or “changing.” Those two things signal there being a deficiency. “Becoming” signals growth, adaptation, and evolution. Think about it: every moment we are becoming something– something else. Our intellect is constantly evolving and changing because of the different impressions, and different visual/audio/spatial stimuli that we have each and every day.

While philosopher Parmenides spoke of “being” and Heraclitus’ philosophy was about “becoming,” we are not sure if Parmenides was responding to Heraclitus, or Heraclitus to Parmenides. This rivalry had a profound influence on Plato. As Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” There is always a state of flux.

We’re never the same person. Every moment our molecules, atoms, and cells change in our body. Who we were yesterday isn’t the same person are today. Therefore we need to embrace that we and everything around us is always “becoming.”

Our Many Faces

This week I was reminded how important our ability to read faces is. And, how important the faces we make are. First, on Monday, I was given a caricature and was described as Jupiter, the bringer of jollity, from The Planets. I blogged about this in Leading With Jollity. I have always taken pride in being able to read faces. It is such an important skill when teaching and facilitating learning. I love to read and interpret the feelings and expressions of those around me. It turns out we are all born with this intuition. Within a few hours after we are born, we recognize the face of our mother.

I am reading the fascinating book, Read The Face: Face Reading For Success In Your Career, Relationships, and Health by Eric Standop right now. Face reading, according to Standop, is our first language. As a master face reader, Standop is able to read personality, character, emotions, and even the state of a person’s health. This can all be done from simply glancing at their face. While certainly not trained in this, I still believe it is important for us to be able to pick up on the clues of face reading and continually work at paying attention and honing this skill. When I am facilitating learning for a group I always try to watch for the facial cues of the participants. I can tell when someone has something to say, a question, agreement, or is in disagreement. These cues help me to let the discussion deepen organically and play out.

My many years of teaching agriculture science gave me the opportunity to hone these skills. In the past few years, working with adults, I have had the chance to hone them further. And, one of the perks of virtual meetings is that we can really study the faces of others. Clearly, if you read Leading With Jollity, you’ll find that Christine Benson had the caricature done of me, and described me as Jupiter, bringer of jollity, from only getting to know me through Zoom meetings. Actually, that was a pretty accurate description. To me this proves that we can get to know people well in a virtual setting. In many cases I have been able to get to know people even better. Sometimes discussions go even deeper online. I am not saying that I do not want to be in person, because that is still my preference, but if we use our innate ability to face read to the fullest we can form even deeper relationships. What are you learning from others’ faces? What is your face telling others?

My Memories Matter

As I wrote the rough draft of this post I was on a plane taxiing to the runway at Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. As I looked out window I saw the dome of our Capitol and the Washington Monument (see my pictures). This caused several moments of reflection. I thought about all 12 U.S. Presidents that have been in office since I was born. I thought about the Vietnam War that happened during my lifetime. I thought about President Nixon and his resignation. I thought about the first President I voted for, Ronald Reagan. I thought about the first Gulf War. I thought about 9/11. I thought about wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I thought about all the time my son Heath and I spent in Washington D.C. when he was growing up when I brought him with me to the Washington Leadership Conference of the National FFA Organization every year. I thought about getting to pay my respects to Ronald Reagan as he was lying in state in the Capitol rotunda. I thought about being with President Obama in the Oval Office. I thought about spending time with, then Vice President, Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden at Number One Observatory Circle. I thought about being awarded the Smithsonian Diffusion Award in the Smithsonian Castle. I thought about the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, and getting to stand at the Brandenburg Gate where President Reagan told Gorbachev to tear down the wall. I thought about being in Vice President Pence’s White House Office. A lot of memories were running through my mind. I realized I’ve experienced a lot in my almost six decades.

That’s a lot of history. That’s a lot of memories. But what does it all mean? Does living through all that matter? Yes, all those memories matter! Our memories make us who we are. They create our worldview in ways we hardly realize. It is why we must be always creating the situations to create memories for our children. We also need to be creating memories for our students. All that we have ever learned, from how to get along and play with others, how to read, and even how to resolve conflicts, makes us who we are. That is why who taught us and our experience of the things we have learned are all embedded in the memories themselves.

Our memories are essential because they allow us to grow and learn to be a better person. Our memories help us understand why we are who we are. When we understand why we are who we are, we become empowered to create ourselves intentionally. Oscar Wilde said, “Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.” I am so glad that my peek out the airplane window caused me to open my mind’s diary and begin reflecting on who I am.