Byron's Babbles

Being More Present In The Present

Posted in Coaching, Leadership, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 25, 2023

I was listening to Indiana native and Princeton University’s head basketball coach, Mitch Henderson, after their 75-85 loss to Creighton University. He reflected and showed appreciation to his players for allow themselves to be coached. This really jumped out at me. To continually grow, evolve, and improve we must allow ourselves to be coached. But, let’s not forget that coaching is a collaborative process that requires open communication, mutual respect, and a shared commitment to growth and development. Henderson clearly earned his players trust, thus allowing them to be open to being coached. As leaders, it is our responsibility to build rapport, establish clear boundaries and expectations, and create a sense of partnership and collaboration with those we serve.

Relationships and teams are built in real-time. To become a team we must engage fully in the process and work together towards achieving their goals. It is also crucial that everyone involved, especially the leader/coach, be present. I loved what Princeton freshman forward Vernon Collins said, “He’s thankful for the past; but he’s more present in the present…” Did you catch why Collins said? “…he’s more present in the present.” Sometimes we let past history and success cloud our present situation. We need to be more present in the present.


Surprise Me


I am a huge believer in the cultivating of a collaborative and supportive work environment. The best leaders are the ones who give their teams autonomy and create a sense of ownership among their staff, instilling a greater sense of responsibility and empowering individuals to take ownership of their roles within the organization. Interestingly, this act of delegation is extremely hard for some leaders. It is tough for some to let go. When decision-making authority is given to those closest to where the data is created, it can lead to improved communication, as team members have the opportunity to have greater input and more direct interaction with each other when problem-solving. In “Empowerment Needs No Menus!” I said, “To empower someone, you have to help them feel proud of the good things they do. This is truly the essence of empowerment.” One of the best examples of this are great servers at restaurants. I first experienced this when going out to eat with my dear friend and leadership idol, David Marquet. He said, “Byron are you up for letting our server pick everything from our drinks to dessert?” I was all in and it was a wonderful experience. I now use this as a leadership exercise and it is interesting to see how everyone handles it.

Lulu preparing our Baked Alaska

This week I was in Washington D.C. for the National Association of State Boards of Education’s (NASBE) Legislative Conference and one of the highlights is always getting a group together for dinner. No surprise, I was left with the planning of where we would be going. I picked TruLuck’s Ocean’s Finest Seafood & Crab. Here’s the deal: on their website they tell you to “Escape the ordinary!” The great experience there allowed us to do just that. On their Twitter site they tell us, “Captivating ambiance and genuine Southern Hospitality – We believe small touches inspire lasting memories. Delight in dining again.” I’ve got to tell you, the small touches that our server Lulu brought to our group from Maine, Arkansas, New Jersey, Georgia, Indiana, Texas, Kansas, and present and past NASBE staff did inspire memories that will last us the rest of our lives. Needless to say, Lulu was fantastic.

Renée and I

Now, back to empowerment. It was clear that Lulu knew what she was doing. She knows the menu and every item on the menu; she knows how read every individual in a group; and she understands the right questions to ask to best meet the needs of her customers and create those small touches that inspire. This was so evident that one in our group, Renée Rybak Lang, NASBE’s Communication Director, empowered Lulu by saying, “Surprise me” when it was her turn to order- leaving her entire meal in Lulu’s hands. I loved it! Lulu was excited by this declaration of empowerment, asked Renée a couple of questions, like “How hungry are you?” and away she excitedly went. Remember, empowered team members feel that they are contributing to the growth and success of the organization. Lulu is a critical part of TruLuck’s success. And since I know you are wondering; yes, Renée loved her steak and lobster. Renée allowed Lulu to utilize her own creativity, knowledge of her menu, and the relationship she had built with the customer to choose a better meal for her than she might of chosen for herself. I’m sure Renée made Lulu feel proud of the great things she does. Additionally, TruLuck’s was able to deliver on their promise of escaping the ordinary, because of Lulu. What are you doing to foster a culture of empowerment and create a sense of ownership among team members?

Improving Our Time

I am reading the incredible book, A Man of Iron. The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland by Troy Senik right now. I am confident there will be many blog posts prompted by this book. This post is about a comment Senik made early in the book as he was describing Cleveland’s journey as a child and young man. He wrote, “If we want to become great in our future lives we must improve our time in school.” He also said, “We must improve our time as children.” This observation that we must improve our time really jumped out at me. As father of a son who graduates from college this spring it has been awesome to watch him grow, develop, and improve. It has also been my job to not be a main character, that’s his role, but a side character in this journey. It has been such an honor to be a supporting actor in his journey. Funny, I hadn’t really thought of it, but my wife and I’s job has been to provide the experiences for him to improve. Additionally, my son has done a great job of improving his time.

Back to “We must improve our time as children.” Whether as parents or educators, we must improve time by helping children learn new skills, pursue their interests, and develop healthy habits, so that they can become well-rounded and successful individuals later on. Furthermore, we need to focus on our education, social skills, and emotional growth during the formative years so that children can face the challenges of adulthood with confidence and resilience. Bottom-line: the time spent during childhood has an important impact on our future. Every path matters – so we have an obligation to do everything we can to help our our children navigate, both with guidance and providing experiences as supporting actors.

Keeping Our Minds Wide

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 17, 2023

In season nine (2021), episode 174 of Chicago PD, Sergeant Hank Voight (Jason Beghe) said, “Let’s keep our minds wide” to the team. I loved this phrase. I believe he was telling the team to be receptive to lots of ideas, possible scenarios, arguments, data, evidence, and information. When we do this we become able to understand different patterns, ideas, and ways of thinking. It’s about expanding our worldview and listening. This reminds me of another old show I love to watch, Columbo. I even blogged about Columba’s ability to listen and expand his worldview in Listen and Look, Look and Listen. In that post I said that the term “look” means to direct your eyes in a certain direction. Then, “listen” means to pay attention to someone or something in order to hear what is being said, or sometimes what is not being said. “Listen” and “look” are actions usually thought of when we are paying attention.

Additionally, this is about expanding our thinking. The best I have witnessed at keeping their minds wide are able to think across multiple dimensions. They can use their past experiences to help bring clarity to the present. Furthermore, keeping our minds wide lets us think more strategically and understand the larger context of the situation. Finally, it is also about being open to the fact that our own ideas might not be right; or at least not entirely correct. This brings to mind a panoramic view, where I can see a lot of landscape or content in one picture.

Everyone Changes Everyone

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 16, 2023

I love the television show Chicago PD. Lots of twists and turns that make me think. I was watching season nine (2021), episode 173 last night and this interaction took place: FBI Agent Walker North (Alex Morf): “You know, I looked into your unit for months. Looked at every member, looked at you. I was so sure that you were the one. Kid from a rough home, mother he had to take care of who died a brutal death from cancer Decade in an army, multiple commendations for this job. I thought you’d be the one person, the one who knew exactly who he was, the one Voight wouldn’t be able to corrupt. I honestly didn’t think he could change you.”
Detective Jay Halstead (Jesse Lee Soffer): “Everyone changes everyone.”
North: “No, not if you don’t let them.”
Halstead: “So your brother didn’t change you?” The phrase “Everyone changes everyone” really jumped out at me. Sometimes we encounter people very briefly and others for longer periods of time and much more intimately. All, in some way, have an impact on us.

The relationships we form with others have the power to shape who we are and who we become. Others’ actions, words, or simple presence, can change the way we think, feel, and behave. And we have that same effect on those we encounter. This is why we need to value the encounters we have with others, but also recognize that those we come in contact with can have a negative effect on us. Who we hang out with matters. Take a moment and reflect on those that have had the biggest impact on your life so far and how have they have changed you.

Self Work

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, Self-Work by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 13, 2023

I came across the term “self-work” this week and it made me think about what that really meant and how does that differ from personal growth or professional growth. While the three it could be argued are interconnected, I believe self-work is much more focused on being introspective. As a very introspective and reflective person, I spend a lot of time examining my thoughts, feelings, beliefs, relationships and behaviors to understand myself better and get better at being me. This helps me be a contributing citizen in this global society we now live.

Professional and personal growth deal more with our identities. Such as, father, board member, leader, community member, partner, or all the other things we must continue to grow and become more effective. Self-work is more about self-awareness. The self-work we invest in ourselves enables us to become significant. Self-work is about owning our own failures and accepting and learning from criticism without just dismissing it as baseless. Self-work is about knowing ourselves. What are those things that will help make us who we want to become?

“Timidity Gains No Friends”

I consider myself to be humble leader. However, just because I am self-aware enough to talk openly about my blind spots and moments of weaknesses does not mean an inability to access my own wisdom to speak up and be courageous. A comment by Mark Twain in Volume 3 of his autobiography caused me to reflect on this. He said, “Timidity gains no friends.” The context when he said this was how some are timid when they start speeches. Twain argued this was never the way to start. It was hard to recover from this, according to Twain. Do not confuse this to say we should be arrogant or even worse, trying to fake it till you make it (my biggest pet peeve in the world). It means sticking to our strengths and playing to what we know.

“Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Developing strong communication skills and practicing active listening can help us assert ourselves without being arrogant. Taking a position of humble inquiry always allows us to learn and add to our knowledge/skill base. We all have our own personality and style that we should own and hone to continually build a confident and effective leadership presence.

Staying Liquid

I already blogged once about the newest episode (S6.E16) of S.W.A.T. this morning in Context Matters. Another thought provoking moment was when Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson (Shemar Moore), a Los Angeles S.W.A.T. lieutenant, said, “Let’s fill the gaps.” The rest of the team immediately said, “Stay liquid.” A pretty amazing team/leadership mantra. I love this, because on great teams there are clearly defined roles and responsibilities, but there are always gaps that arise. When every person knows their role, they are better able to become flexible, or liquid, to fill those caps. Also, when every team member has the proper technical training they are able to become fluid and fill in the gaps. This allows for situational and adaptive leadership at all levels.

Make no mistake, however, staying liquid is not possible without a culture of innovation and experimentation. Also, those clear roles and responsibilities I mentioned earlier enable having processes in place that allow for quick decision-making and rapid response to changing circumstances. Finally, having the necessary and appropriate resources and information in real-time can enable individuals, teams, and any organization to make informed decisions and fill the gaps quickly when necessary.

Context Matters

Posted in Context, Context Matters, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 11, 2023

Having contextual information can help build trust and rapport between individuals, as they feel heard, understood, and validated in their experiences.When we have context, we can accurately assess challenges and opportunities to come up with potential solutions that will better address the underlying nuances and issues at play. Last night while watching a new episode (S6.E16) of S.W.A.T. I was reminded how important digging for context was. Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson (Shemar Moore), a Los Angeles S.W.A.T. lieutenant, reminded his Commander, Robert Hicks (Patrick St. Esprit) that, “I’m just reminding you. You don’t have all the context.” when Hicks was being hard on the son of a former colleague. Once the context was shared between the two, the relationship was shored up.

Then Hondo experienced his own context gathering situation. He had cleaned out his house for the arrival of his new baby girl. His father became very upset and Hondo could not understand why. He then realized he had given away a doll house that his father had built for Hondo’s sister and was planning to remodel for Hondo’s daughter. What Hondo thought was junk meant a lot to his father and he was looking forward to passing the doll house down to his granddaughter. Once Hondo figured it out, it was too late and the doll house couldn’t be found. In the end Hondo and his father decided to build a new one together. Taking the time to establish and consider context is an essential aspect of problem-solving and effective communication. In the absence of context, misunderstandings can arise, and solutions may be less effective or even counterproductive. Context matters!

To Learn Without Being Taught

Posted in Education, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, Learning by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 10, 2023

Yesterday I made a comment in a meeting that I make quite often: “I am pretty sure none of our students took a TikTok course in their school.” So, how have they learned to be so proficient with this controversial social media? Easy. The kids were excited to learn it, so they learned without being taught. I actually did a post on this last year entitled, “The Real-World Inspires.” Today I want to go a little further and talk about the idea of to learn without being taught. We all do it. As a founder of a business I have had to learn all kinds of things without being taught in the traditional sense. Yesterday, what prompted the whole conversation was that a person apologized for being self taught on some communication strategies and workflows we were discussing. I asked, “Why are you apologizing? Clearly you are passionate about this and see the need and relevance for your organization.” Some of the most impactful learning involves learning through trial and error, exploration, experimentation, and through exposure to new situations or environments. We all develop new skills, ideas or perspectives by engaging in activities.

Also, think about all that children learn without formal lessons or instructions. We all learned how to walk, talk and interact with others through their own curious exploration and observation of the world around us. We need to create environments for our children, ourselves, and within our organizations for the curious exploration and learning to occur. And, I think you’ll agree that kind of learning is very fulfilling and rewarding; not to mention lasting.