Byron's Babbles

Developing Leadership

Yesterday, on Day 443 of the Global Pandemic, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to do a live-stream discussion with Joseph Michelli, Ph.D. of The Michelli Experience. You can watch the video here in this post. I have literally read every one of Joseph’s books. His work has had a huge impact on me as a leader and an educator. I think back to how much The Zappos Experience, Leading The Starbucks Experience, The Starbucks Experience, and When Fish Fly impacted how I led while principal of a state takeover academy. The experience that we provided for our students, families, and teachers was directly impacted by that learning. This is actually what I call intersectional learning. The learning that takes place between different contexts, industries, cultures, or experiences. Neither Zappos, Starbucks, nor the Pikes Place Fish Market are in the business of K-12 education, but there is much to be learned from how they do business and the customer experience they provide. After the books I had be be in Seattle, Washington and I made sure I spent a day of the trip experiencing the original Starbucks and the Pikes Place Fish Market. My son, Heath, even had the experience of catching one of the flying fish (on the second try – and I have the video to prove it).

It was great to reflect on this today during my conversation with Joseph. He is truly living out his Legacy Statement: “I want to be remembered as someone who captured what was right in the world and shared it for the betterment of others.” All that he has so eloquently shared in well researched and documented ways over the years has made me a better person and enabled me to serve others in a much more effective and authentic way. Joseph has suggested that we should all create legacy statements. Here is mine: “Hopefully I’ll be remembered as a thoughtful leader who showed love for those I served by providing growth and development.” If you want to know more about this, read Where Were You Era.

In the couple of days leading up to this live-stream discussion I pulled blogs that I had done about Joseph and his work (there were many) and took some notes of things I wanted to have brought out in the discussion. Amazingly, many of these were things he asked about or wanted to discuss as well. That was pretty cool and felt very organic and authentic given that we had not talked or prepped anything together prior to the event. I loved what he pulled from my book, The Hand In The Back Of The Room: Connecting School Work To Real Life, “Education exists in the larger context of society. When society changes – so too must education if it is to remain viable.” This was from Part I: Why A Relevant and Real World Context Matters. In one of Joseph’s “Resilience ReCaps” in his latest book Stronger Through Adversity, he says, “Leadership action, in and out of a crisis, can be viewed as operating on three levels – generalized, customized, or personalized.” I believe you could switch out “education” for “leadership” and this statement remains very true. To be effective for our students we must be spending a great deal of time in customized and personalized. That’s where the learning becomes exciting and engaging for both the student and the teacher.

Joseph also taught us in Stronger Through Adversity that, “Love is a passionate approach to work and heartfelt care for the growth and development of those you serve” (p. 265). He said this after quoting Joe Duran, CEO and Founder of Personal Financial Management at Goldman Sachs, who said, “I hope people will say love was the driving force for everything we did. Ideally, they would feel we loved our people and our clients. They would sense that we loved waking up each morning to serve them” (p. 265) Love is something very powerful that we should be exercising with those we serve. Love makes it personal, and when something becomes personal it becomes important.

Trust Is A Verb

I just finished rereading the great book Nuance: Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail by Michael Fullan. I blogged about what prompted me to do this reread in “Nuance: Subtle Differences.” We are, and have been, experiencing times when complexity challenges our ability to adapt. This is particularly true in educational systems where we must meet individual student needs. Fullan offered help for thinking about systems change around three habits of nuance: joint determination, adaptability, and culture-based accountability.

Fullan argued that “trust is a verb before it becomes a state.” Someone can’t earn your trust without you first trusting them on something. In other words you can’t talk your way into trust. Trust becomes part of the community culture in real time. It is an action. When a leader is an active participant and becomes part of the group, accountability becomes a shared norm instead of something imposed from above. This resonates with me so much because I so desire the establishment and maintaining of a culture and community of innovation and commitment. This requires deep levels of trust.

Loving Teachers

As we close out Teacher Appreciation Week for 2021 I wanted to weigh in with my thanks and call for us all to love our teachers year round, not just a designated week. During a presentation I recorded for ASCD’s Annual Conference this week, I talked about how we needed to love our teachers if we wanted to stop losing great teachers and change the trajectory of teacher retention in a positive direction. I do not take the term “love” lightly and learned about this form of “love” from Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans, authors of Love ‘Em Or Lose ‘Em. To love our teachers we must be providing opportunities to grow and develop and be the best at carrying out their purpose of serving students every day. I am a former teacher and school leader who has shifted to creating and developing meaningful learning environments and transformative professional learning opportunities for educators and leaders, both in my day to day professional life, and as a citizen leader and policy maker. As a believer that everyone is a leader, we need to make sure we are doing everything possible to love our teachers, listen to their needs and desires, and honor them every day.

We have learned much about leading through a crisis during the past year. The pandemic has challenged us to be more agile in educating our children. Our teachers have met the challenge. Responding to new conditions and new data prompted us all to see school as no longer a single place. My hope is that we will double down on rethinking what success looks like in education. I also want to acknowledge the adjustments that teachers have always made every day to increase equity, access, rigor, and engagement for all students. As I write this I am reminded of the great teachers I have had over the years and continue to have. I am very fortunate to work with teachers every day and must say that I still learn from them each and every day. I was blessed to have teachers who had amnesia for the mistakes and my sometimes (okay, maybe more than sometimes) less than perfect actions. My teachers were pivotal figures in my life. They not only educated me, but set me up for a life of success.

Thank you teachers for inspiring our students to think outside the box, outside of the classroom, and into the future. We need to be guiding students toward their largest, best, life-long interests; not just the narrow obstacle course we now control. Therefore, I stand committed to showing you love by continuing to push for, advocate for, champion for, and be a cheerleader for creating space and flexibility for creativity, curiosity, and innovation you deserve.

Nuance: Subtle Differences

Nuance is a word I use a lot as a leader, as a noun, verb, and adjective. For me it is more than a word, however. As a student of Michael Fullan, I am a big believer that nuance is the answer to dealing with complex changes and the complex issues we have in the world today. In fact, being prompted to think deeply about what nuance means to me as a leader while reading Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing by Jamie Holmes also prompted me to start re-reading Michael Fullan’s great book Nuance: Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail. Holmes argued that straightforward answers are not always the best ones. The challenge is that in times of uncertainty and anxiety, people look for, and want straightforward answers. An inability to weigh new or different options is usually a hindrance. We many times desire simple explanations over ambiguity even when the simple explanations are completely false. Holmes also pointed to how President George W. Bush was reported to have said “I don’t do nuance” after the attacks on 9/11. Bush’s popularity increased following this. The problem was, there might have been some nuances overlooked during that period that could have lead to even better and more lasting solutions, but we were all fearful of other attacks and looking for immediate action. Studying history using hindsight can be dangerous, but there might have been cause to consider the nuances of the time. Harry Truman spoke often about the nuances of leadership and I blogged about this in “Remember, Freedom Is Yours Until You Give It Up.” In fact, I really hadn’t noticed how much I contemplate nuance, but I noticed is preparing this post that I have discussed nuance in nine different blog posts.

“The test of a first rate intelligence, is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Under pressure people want a quick solution. This also drives these same people to favor just being told (authoritarian) what to do. I’ve experienced this before in policy discussions where things get a little messy with multiple good ideas, multiple ideas where the best of bad ideas has to be chosen, or opposing ideas that are both viable options. Individuals will suddenly say things like, “Just tell us what you want us to do.” When thinking of nuance I am reminded that two diamonds can be of identical size and color, but there are always slight differences not recognizable to the untrained eye. These differences can greatly add to or subtract from the value of the diamond. We need to think about the many complexities we deal with in our leadership worlds as diamonds and make sure we are studying all of the subtleties (nuances). The worst leaders tend to speak, direct, manage, and go “hands on” way too much. These leaders miss the nuances and go to what they know (or think they know) and insert themselves and begin “telling.” Remember, this fast and expedient route to the finish line can miss weighing all options and might miss great subtle and nuanced solutions.

Fullan taught us that “Nuance leaders have a curiosity about what is possible, openness to other people, sensitivity to context, and a loyalty to a better future. They see below the surface, enabling them to detect patterns and their consequences for the system. They connect people to their own and each other’s humanity. They don’t lead, they teach.” If you’ve ever experienced a leader that does this, you are thinking fondly of them right now. Unfortunately, there are so many leaders that have not figured this out. I was fortunate to have a leader early in my career who was a flawless nuance leader. He was extremely humble and I would compare him to being the orchestra director allowing us to express our own talents while bringing each instrument together for beautiful music. Our school was on an upward trajectory and serving our students at the highest level of excellence. Here’s what makes the difference: nuance leaders consider the lived experience of others as a result of the current reality and how that might change with each decision. Don’t forget to look for the subtle differences?

The Good News Is

In A Tale Of Two Cities Charles Dickens wrote “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” It’s like Dickens was writing about the past 365 days of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic. Read it again and I believe you’ll agree it is a pretty good description of what we’ve been through.

365 days ago today, March 10, 2020, I realized while enjoying an Indiana Pacers game with some great friends from the Purdue University Krannert School of Management that we were headed for the worst of times. I made the comment toward the end of the game, “What happens if someone in the arena has the coronavirus? Or, what happens if someone on one of these teams has coronavirus?” I guess it was one of those “Where were you?” moments. Well, we found out the very next day. Rudy Gobert, of the Utah Jazz, was diagnosed with the virus on March 11, and the NBA suspended its season following play that night. Also, it was March 11, 2020 that the World Health Organization officially declared the COVID-19 Global Pandemic. Thus began the worst of times.

This morning I read Chapter 20 in Joseph Michelli’s great book (one of the silver linings of the pandemic that you all should read) Stronger Through Adversity. The title of the chapter, “Run Toward The Future,” is such a perfect descriptor for how I, and those I look to as examples and mentors, have been trying to approach this crisis. The book is a great guide on how to continue running toward the future, no matter what field you are in. It was evident from that moment at the Pacers game a year ago that life was never going to be the same. I quickly came to the realization that I was going to have to adapt, learn, grow, and get uncomfortable in order to survive. I was kind of asking myself if I had the wisdom and belief to somehow make this the best of times. I love how Dr. Michelli put it, “Some leaders only ran from danger, while others also ran toward the future” (p. 248). After a few days of getting my bearings, I consciously made the decision to use every day of the pandemic to become a better me. I can honestly say I have grown personally and professionally in the past 365 days in ways that would have never been possible under pre-pandemic circumstances.

Additionally, I made a commitment to be a beacon of hope and positivity for others. Every professional development event, meeting, or gathering I always start with something related to what day of the pandemic it is. It has actually kind of become my trade mark. For me it became and continues to be about looking for the silver linings and helping others find the silver linings. I continue to ask the questions of:

  1. What’s the opportunity after the opportunity? (think about that a little and it will make sense)
  2. What have we stopped doing during the pandemic that needs to be stopped permanently?
  3. What have we started doing that needs to continue?

For example, I’m a pretty good in person facilitator and speaker, but I’ve got to tell you I was apprehensive about going virtual. But overnight, literally, going virtual with presentations was what I did. Now, the opportunity after the opportunity is programs developed to be either in person or virtual, whichever the client wants. And, we stopped traveling for short, less than a day, events in luau of doing them virtually- that needs to continue. Not to mention I have improved my listening skills, ability to remember names, ability to read non-verbal queues, and make sure every voice is heard. My point is the last 365 days have enabled me to improve my craft. For a while in the spring I was doing three and four webinars a day, as we were providing free in-service for teachers. As I was helping teachers learn remote learning best practices, I was becoming a better facilitator. Those days were grueling, but as I look back they were very rewarding. Teachers tell us all the time that was some of the best development they’ve ever had and wish we could go back to offering that much development. Hear that opportunity?

Even though it has been the worst of times, there have been many moments of the best of times. And, we have certainly seen wisdom, foolishness, and belief during the past 365 days. Let’s go back to Stronger Through Adversity, where Dr. Michelli quoted James McElvain, PhD, Chief of Police for the Vancouver, Washington, Police Department, as saying, “Being a leader means you are in the forever business…” (p. 255). On day 365, and who knows how many more days of the pandemic are ahead, we need to be asking ourselves, “How are you running to the future as a leader of a forever business?”

The Gap Between Intent & Impact

I love it when what I have been reading in one book informs what I have been reading in another, thus causing me to pause, reflect, and collect my thoughts. One of the passages that really resonated with me from Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans in the sixth edition of Love ‘Em Or Lose ‘Em was recognizing “the gap between intent and impact.” Many times I view this as are you really doing (impact) what you say you are (intent)? Thus the tale of the two gaps: some just talk with no intention of acting, which brings no impact and others talk the intent and just don’t do the right things for the impact to happen. What I’ve found is, the leaders who bring real impact walk the walk. They just “do” without having to tell you about it. This in turn brings up another gap discussed by Beverly and Sharon: “The gap between espoused values and practiced values.” Make no mistake, these two gaps are very real in organizations and I am going to guess you have experienced them. What resonated with me was the notion that if we really want to love ’em (those we serve) then mass customization of how we deal with those we serve does not work. There is no one policy for the workforce anymore. We need to allow for everyone to be a part of determining what is fair and right for them.

I believe we even need to use this mindset when working with students in our educational environments. I remember as a high school principal thinking how ridiculous it was to have students who were in many cases the bread winner of the family, maybe raising a child of their own at home, or caring for the younger siblings while mom or dad were at work have to ask for a pass to go to the rest room. I know, there has to be accountability, but I believe in having high standards and helping students develop their own thoughts on what is right for them. What I have found is, is that the majority of students will rise to a high standards and want that kind of accountability. I wanted our school to treat the students like adults – because in many cases they had become adults. It is our job to help them determine what is fair and right for them. In the end, won’t this help them understand and learn to do this when they are are in the workforce and leading others?

Furthermore, in this week’s Mindset Mondays with DTK lesson in Chapter 27 entitled “Love What You Do,” David Taylor-Klaus (DTK) told us “Paying attention to my impact has always helped me build my practice in a way that trying to fill the roster has not.” He went on to say, “It’s so easy to focus on getting through the list, yet when you choose to focus on what you can love, it’s amazing how much easier your checklist becomes.” Therefore it is much more important for us to be doing what we love as opposed to checking tasks off a checklist. Most importantly, finding what we love is not just important to us it is crucial to us creating an impact for those we serve. This is really essence of of Beverly and Sharon’s “loving ’em.” Are we removing the gap between intent (espoused) and impact (practiced)? Do you know what your love is? More importantly, do you know the love(s) of those you serve? If you don’t, Beverly and Sharon told us to, “Ask so you don’t have to guess.”

Explore And Heighten On President’s Day

Interestingly, the holiday we celebrate today is officially Washington’s Birthday, not President’s Day. In 1971 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Law, Washington’s Birthday (February 22) was moved to the third Monday in February. This put the holiday in between Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) and Washington’s. It also gave us another three day weekend – the intent of the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill. There was a push to change the name from Washington’s Birthday to President’s Day, but that did not pass – we just all call it President’s Day.

As I take a moment to reflect on this day, I remind myself of advice I give to others: study humans, not heroes. I believe this is important in teaching history and civics as well. While we have the advantage of hindsight when studying the past, always remember those who lived it, did not. One of my favorite authors, David McCullough, put it this way, “Nor was there ever anything like the past. Nobody lived in the past, if you stop to think about it. Jefferson, Adams, Washington—they didn’t walk around saying, ‘Isn’t this fascinating, living in the past?’ They lived in the present just as we do. The difference was it was their present, not ours. And just as we don’t know how things are going to turn out for us, they didn’t either. It’s very easy to stand on the mountaintop as an historian or biographer and find fault with people for why they did this or didn’t do that, because we’re not involved in it, we’re not inside it, we’re not confronting what we don’t know—as everyone who preceded us always was” (McCullough, February 15, 2005, in Phoenix, Arizona, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar on the topic, “American History and America’s Future.”). We need to remember that history was not created in a vacuum and could have gone a bunch of different ways.

As we reflect on our Founders and past Presidents we need to remember they were human beings, just like us, with flaws, sins, and both terrible and good qualities. We’ve had leaders do some terrible things and we need to study those things and call them out to make sure and not repeat them. We also need to learn, grow, and continue to improve and get better. In the world of improvisation there are the five syllables “explore and heighten.” This is where we usher in our imagination, where ideas are born, where our power finds its source, and where we discover what’s waiting for us. I believe this to be the genius of our American community. We know everything can and should be improved upon. So, on this day of reflection, let’s renew our resolve recognizing our errors of the past and continued improvement for making the world a better place for ALL.

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.

Leading The Michelli Way

I am a huge believer in intersectional learning. This is the learning that can be accomplished from the commonalities and complexities of different industries, businesses, and organizations. I have always been a fan of Dr. Joseph Michelli’s work and books. He has knocked it out of the park with his latest book, Stronger Through Adversity: World-Class Leaders Share Pandemic-Tested Lessons On Thriving During The Toughest Challenges. This book is the encyclopedia of intersectional learning. I am only about 25% through the book, but have learned and reflected on so many things. I have read all of his books, and I have to attribute many of the ideas I have implemented over the years started from the learning I have done from his books.

My goal with this post is to pay it forward and invite all of you to learn from Dr. Michelli. If you are one who likes to learn from others and then apply that learning to your own context, then his work is for you. He has studied and chronicled, in-depth, the many companies he has worked with, improved, consulted, and learned from. Let me just give you one example from the book. Let’s begin with this quote:

“a responsibility alongside other hospitality brands to ensure all travelers who decide to book an all-inclusive getaway will feel confident that they’ll have a safe, comfortable, and memorable experience. Each and every resort or hotel brand needs to stay true to its unique value proposition in the market, yet abide by a common denominator of strict hygiene and safety protocols. Health and safety have always been top priorities among travelers, and now they are key determining factors in a consumer’s decisions to travel.”

Carolyne Doyon, President and CEO of North America and the Caribbean at Club Med

I don’t care what industry you are involved in, the learning here applies. Take the words “hotel or resort,” “traveler,” “travel,” or “hospitality” and change them to those that apply to your organization and the statement applies. When I think of both my policy making and leadership roles in education this statement really applies.

I talk about the value proposition that Doyon speaks of in my leadership training all the time. As a believer in school choice, I believe every school must have a unique value proposition. In other words, why should families choose your school to attend? No doubt, the pandemic has even created new, what I call, competitive advantages.

We have had to contemplate bringing students back and opening schools, keeping students and teachers safe, how to do virtual education or some combination of virtual and in person education effectively, and how to still hold ourselves accountable for the learning and outcomes ALL students we serve deserve.

Dr. Michelli’s book is so timely because we are still working on all this. I was just in a briefing today on the Biden administration’s priorities in education and these items are being contemplated. We need to use the learning from all sectors to help us learn and navigate our course. Stronger Through Adversity gives us the actions of many great leaders. I wish we could have a summit of all the leaders to create action plans for all of us. Maybe he’ll let me pick a couple of leaders and invite me to do one of his podcasts with him. I can dream, can’t I?

As I said at the beginning, this post is intended to serve as my paying it forward for you to check out this great book and the learning that can be gained from Dr. Michelli’s work. Check it out!