Byron's Babbles

March Flowers 🌼

Sometimes we need to look no further than our children for inspiration in times of crisis. This was true this past weekend for me. As I read all of the different statements being put out this week by businesses and organizations, I couldn’t help but think that the simple things we are taught as children should guide every decision: the Golden Rule and what is best for others. Maybe just some good ole empathy and compassion.

We went down to help move my son home from Murray State University this past weekend. It was tough on him to be leaving a place he has grown to love and all his friends. He was visibly upset. There was definitely mental impact at play in him having to move home because of the coronavirus. Even during this trying time, he took time to pick a clump of March flowers (daffodils) for his mother (pictured here). We’d never heard them called March Flowers. Heath told us it was a Kentucky thing. He explained, “Spring is here, new life is blooming in spite of the coronavirus.” That’s my boy, finding some beauty and positivity during a time of crisis. That was a moment I will savor forever.

As I watch groups and businesses contemplate how to get the most out of their employees at this time of global crises I can’t help but think these so called leaders have missed the point. Right now we should be thinking about how best to care for those we serve, period. And, as someone who doesn’t sit around and pontificate about a virus I know nothing about, the best thing to do is have everyone staying at home. I’m surprised how many people have become experts overnight.

In the case of k-12 education we do need to be concerned for the learning of our children. We also need to provide parents with resources to help their students along with our teachers. We need to be cognizant of the mental impact that the crisis we are living through can have. Schools need to make sure resources for parents are available so they can reinforce social-emotional skills at home and know who to contact if they are concerned about an issue impacting learning online or just in day to day life.

Staying positive is the core ingredient in the recipe of successfully coping in a time of crisis. Now is the time to be proactive in creating small moments of happiness in our days. Positive emotions help us to undo the negative effects of stress.

Change Is A Coming!

IMG_8098There is one thing for sure as I sit and write this post on this Sunday morning; change is a coming. My son is coming home from college till at least April 6th, and learning remotely and online (since I miss him being at home every day, I am excited for him to be home). The students at the schools I serve will be learning remotely. The teachers and school leaders I serve will be learning and creating best practices for remote and online student learning. Also, we must develop best practices for caring for the non-academic needs of our students (eg. food, social emotional, et cetera). I need to consider what limiting social contact means for mean personally. Additionally, I am positive that there will be things on the policy side of my life, as an Indiana State Board of Education member, that will have to be decided. So, as I said, times are changing. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is bringing change to all the world and all our lives.

As I contemplate all the constant and fluid change going on around me, I continue to remind myself that change is a never-ending process. Change is not a journey or a one-time event. Additionally, as a person who doesn’t like the term expert, or am not even sure there is such a thing, we need to remember that, right now, there are no experts – we’ve never been through this before. So, we have a bunch of people doing the best we can. The changes we are experiencing due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic need to be continuous and participatory. We must communicate and collaborate. This can’t become about who can tweet what they are doing the fastest to feed their own ambition. Or, who can blast someone else for what they haven’t done.

The problem with thinking of change as a journey is that travel is sequential. We move from one leg of the journey to the next. Change, in contrast, isn’t a series of steps; it is not a map you can follow. There is no Maps App for change, particularly not for coronavirus. As a lover of metaphors, let’s imagine pouring cream (I prefer coconut flavored) into a mug of coffee. Almost immediately as the liquids merge, there is a color change from black to brown to a light tan depending on how much cream we add. Change needs to look more like that. Instead of someone trying to come up with a well-executed plan on their own, it becomes what I call triageformational. Yes, triageformational is a term I coined. I first blogged about it in Triageformational Leadership: New Hybrid Definition of Triage and Transformational Leadership. I believe it applies more now, with our coronavirus situation, than ever before. Here is what I said in that blog post:

“Those that I believe that would make great triageformational leaders place a high value on fostering an environment or community of collaboration. This community is balanced, diverse, and equitable. These leaders build community and culture by truly living out their own core values and the organization’s core values. Just like doing triage in an emergency situation, these leaders are prioritizing what gets done next by matching core values to the situation. This in turn brings about transformation and service oriented leadership.”

We must change the way we change. We cannot have all change initiatives coming from on high. CEOs and other bureaucratic leaders who decree the values they created alone have already failed. Those values must be collaboratively developed. So, how should we change? Well, change must be continuous and participatory, and we must look for those who know more than ourselves.

 

Influencer, Inspiring, & Impactful

At yesterday’s Indiana 3D Leadership gathering I was inspired to do some deeper studying, which is usually the case, because of discussion that took place. I usually say the discussion inspired me, but for this post I’m contemplating what to call it. More on why I say that, later in the post. Last night we did an activity that I call Rushmorean Leadership which was then followed up by an activity called extending the influence. The activity calls for teacher leaders to bring pictures to identify four great leaders to put on their own personal Mount Rushmore. Then they bring six additional pictures to extend the influence.

As with everything this Indiana group does, I was blown away. What struck me last night, however, was that one participant talked about the persons on their board as influencers. Then the next referred to the leaders as inspiring and yet another referred to the her chosen leaders as impactful. For some reason I just had to ask the question of the group: What’s the difference, if any, in these descriptors? A great discussion ensued, which then led to me studying deeper this morning.

We all know that leadership is not about a title or a designation. We also know, and I’m glad we discussed this in depth last night that ambition is not a favorable characteristic of great leaders. For ambition will take over purpose. Influencers, we decided, spread passion for work, causes, innovation, or change. Those that inspire evoke a sense of energy. Finally, impact involves getting results. Impact is ultimately the measuring stick of the influence or inspiration.

Influencers cause us to think about things differently. They help us to shape our purpose, passion, and core values. Interestingly several participants had parents on their boards and referred to how they had influenced their lives.

In contrast, those that inspire help us gain motivation. This inspiration may be in the form of receptivity, positivity, or motivation. There is research that links inspiration to motivation. This inspiration causes us to actively engage in environments that lead toward self growth and fulfillment of needs.

The more I studied and reflected on all this I formed the opinion that most, if not all, of the leaders chosen by the group were influencers who were creating an impact. These individuals were all helping to create constructive cultures, whether in organizations, nations, or globally. In their five star book, Creating Constructive Cultures: Leading People and Organizations to Effectively Solve Problems and Achieve Goals, Janet Szumal and Robert Cooke of Human Synergistics International ask the question: “As a leader, how can you both directly and indirectly influence your organization to ensure that members can independently and interactively solve problems and achieve the organization’s goals more readily and effectively?” I love the question because it has both directly and indirectly. Of the ten leaders each participant brought pictures of, some influenced directly, eg. parents. Others influenced indirectly, eg. Michelle Obama.

One thing is for sure; in all cases the individuals chosen embodied the necessary styles to create constructive cultures. All strove to create the cultural norms necessary for creating constructive cultural styles. See the constructive styles below:

So, I’ve come to the conclusion that influencing, being inspiring, and being impactful are not mutually exclusive. They go hand in hand when being a model of personal growth for us and creating constructive cultures.

Play Time For Leaders

I so enjoyed my extra day that we all had today because of this being a Leap Year. I spent the day with aspiring teacher leaders at Knowledge Academies in Nashville, Tennessee facilitating a 3D Leadership gathering. Because I am always so inspired at each of these gatherings I tend to have something to blog about after most of them. Today was no exception, and because I so wanted to have a February 29th (Leap Year) entry – here it is. Today’s through line of the program titled The Focused Leader was “Your Leadership Toy Box.”

“To infinity and beyond!” —Buzz Lightyear

The first activity involved the participants picking a toy, playing with the toy, and then answering the following questions. If this toy was in your Leadership Toy Box:

  1. How does this toy represent great leadership traits?
  2. How could you use this toy to be a great leader?

We then shared these out after some quality play time. I was so blown away by the responses that I asked for volunteer guest posts to put into this blog post. Here are three of those responses:

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Lori Tharp

Toys and Leadership?

Today in the NEI 3D Leadership Cohort session, we were asked to select a toy and explain ways it could be a leadership tool.  I selected two – a kaleidoscope and a Chinese finger trap.  I was excited to answer this question since I have always been a kid at heart!  After all, toys have always been a part of my life:  My kids played with toys.  I used to work in Children’s Ministry, then I worked as a preschool teacher.  My husband sells vintage and current toys and one of my favorite movies is Toy Story!  – so, this was “right up my alley!”

When I looked into the kaleidoscope at an object, I could see that the one image turned into many objects – showing a whole new perspective of the image with many facets.  When I turned the kaleidoscope around and looked through it at the opposite end, I could only see one image.  As I apply this to leadership I realized, as leaders, we should learn to see the things from a wider perspective – or different angles.  We can all have the same goal or the same focus, but we need to be able to view ideas, opinions and suggestions from the perspectives of others, and ultimately, work together as a team…which leads me to the other toy I selected – the Chinese finger trap.

Looking at the Chinese finger trap – a simple little toy that traps the victim’s fingers in both ends of a small cylinder woven from bamboo. If you place your fingers in each end and pull outward, this only tightens the grip of the trap.  Push your fingers together, it loosens up. The pieces of bamboo seem to be very fragile, and if it was only one piece, it would probably break.  This little device is actually many pieces of bamboo woven together, which makes it very strong as one small unit.  This reminds me of leadership. Working together as a team, makes us a stronger, tighter unit.  We can accomplish more together than we can alone.  Good leaders are aware of this, and they value the input of the other team members. Sometimes, though, we need to tighten up as a team, and sometimes we are so rigid we need to loosen up!  Either way, leaders work as a team!

The possibilities are endless if I were to use these items in the classroom as a leadership tool.  I could just imagine the kids in the class exploring these toys and finding fun and creative ways to use them.  I could learn just as much from them!

Lori Tharp
Special Education Teacher at Knowledge Academies
“I realized, as leaders, we should learn to see the things from a wider perspective – or different angles.” ~ Lori Tharp
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Jane Rogers

Chinese Yo Yo….. A leadership tool???

I was asked today to explain how a Chinese Yo-Yo as a leadership tool.  At first, I thought “Why did I pick this toy?”  Then after studying it, I thought as you throw the paper out it could be really fun to just bug people with it and see how long it would take to get them to ask me to stop.   As I studied it I saw that there were different colored dots and different sizes.  The larger one made me think that a leader needs to be “big” and strong and take charge.  The medium dot represented that a leader needs to know when to step back and mix in and work collaboratively with everyone.  The smaller dot reminded me that a leader must allow the team to be forefront and allow them to grow and shine.  A good leader should know when to take charge and when to step back.  As I played with the toy, throwing it out and in, it showed me that a leader needs to be flexible, adjustable, fun and maybe slightly annoying.  I can see myself using it in my classroom, as a pointer to get my kids to stay engaged and would want me to call on them by slinging the toy towards them.   So yes, a Chinese Yo-Yo can be leadership if you allow your self to look at it in a way you might never have thought of.

Jane Rogers
Special Education Teacher
Department Lead
“A good leader should know when to take charge and when to step back.” ~ Jane Rogers
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Quintarius Grigsby

Up Up & Away

Hello my name is Mr. Quintarius Grigsby. I am a Science Instructor at Knowledge Academies, basketball coach, and Christian minister. I teach Biology, Physical Science, Chemistry and I have a a background in Agricultural Sciences. At the 3D Leadership meeting the toy I chose was the World War ll Hell Cat Fighter Jet replica. Its symbolic warlike features resonated with me in such a way that I had to choose it as an identifiable leadership tool. Due to its frame and features it helps me to to remember how disciplined I am, and that I am free enough to believe that the sky is the limit. Bombs and missiles represent potential power that is destructive upon release. I believe just like the Hell Cat Fighter Jet, I have the power and influence to destroy the negatives which represent the enemy that limits us from being successful. The wings on the jet also represent freedom. This toy replica can be utilized to inspire others who desire to ascend beyond where they are now. (Leadership is a process, not a position.)

“Due to its frame and features it helps me to to remember how disciplined I am, and that I am free enough to believe that the sky is the limit.” ~ Mr. Quintarius Grigsby

We really can, as you just read, learn a lot from playing with toys. Toys can inspire new ways of thinking about leadership, teamwork and accomplishing our goals. Whether it’s motivation, wisdom or practical advice, there are some great lessons we can all take away.

Serendipity Mattered

This week while continuing to read Great Society: A New History by one of my favorite authors, Amity Shlaes, I found the shortest sentence in the book: “Serendipity mattered” (p. 188). Serendipity has always been an intriguing word to me that I have had trouble understanding because I here it being used in different ways. But when used in the context of Shlaes book, in a two word sentence it made perfect sense. The sentence “Serendipity mattered” really drove home the point she was trying to make and really made the lightbulbs come on for me.

In other words, there needs to be serendipity for innovation to occur. So what is serendipity? As I said earlier, I have trouble understanding it fully, but I know that when conditions are right for it, great things happen. Serendipity is said to happen by simple chance. An opportunity that comes about by a chance occurrence. Therefore, we must create the opportunities for these occurrences. This was the point that Shlaes was making in the book. The Fairchild Semiconductor company realized they needed innovation. They also realized that looseness of hierarchy drove innovation. Thus, “Serendipity mattered.” It is also why we need to beware of the current tides toward any of the Great Society’s socialistic tendencies. This will stifle the serendipity that is so needed.

I touched on serendipity in my blog post Alternative Truths back in 2017, but only to say that we need to be intentional to create space for serendipity to occur. Therefore, I needed to study a little more. Research led me to find that our use of the word serendipity comes from The Three Princes of Serendip. The musician and poet, Amir Khusrau wrote this Persian tale in 1302. The tale is about King Jafer and his three sons. He wants them to have the best education in the kingdom. The King believed that great book learning needed to be combined with a real world context. Wow, I preach that all the time! In fact, I wrote a book, The Hand In The Back Of The Room, about it!

Anyway, the king gave each of the boys a horse and told them to go discover. The boys relished and took advantage of this experience. They learned from being on a journey of taking in real world experiences. Then in 1754, Horace Walpole coined the word serendipity in a letter. He described serendipity, by referring to the tale of the three princes, as making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of. He was excited about this word because there was no word to describe the discovery of something you are not looking for. It was really accidental sagacity.

Then comes the question, how do we create space for serendipity to happen. It probably won’t work to get everyone a horse, but I’m certainly up for it. Think about all the great inventions and innovations that have happened by accident. We need to remember in all this that creation precedes innovation. We need to provide ourselves and others varied routines and time for serendipitous moments to occur. It is why the story of the king sending the princes on a horseback adventure is so important. They’re heads were clear and they were just observing. Think about it; it’s why just taking a walk to clear your brain can bring creative thoughts and solutions. I do this a lot when facilitating teacher leader gatherings. I will tell them to split into groups and take a walk and discuss… They always come back refreshed and with great thoughts and ideas.

Leaders, including political leaders, need to recognize the important role serendipity plays in creativity, innovation, and even relationship building. Interestingly, in my research I found having lunch together as a strategy for encouraging serendipity. I blogged about having lunch together in Let’s Have Lunch Together, but not from the angle of serendipity.

We need to start looking for more serendipity to happen and create space for it. We might not be looking for something specific, but we need to be tuned into a channel of infinite possibilities. Think about it; this blog post was inspired by a two word sentence. It must have been serendipity!

Passion At Ambition’s Command

Posted in Ambition, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Lyndon B Johnson, Passion, Power, Purpose, Robert A Caro by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 14, 2020

We teach that having passion is a key to success, particularly when linked with purpose. History, however, teaches us that passion can become destructive. Research in psychology describes this destructive passion as “obsessive passion.” The good passion is “harmonious passion.” My recent reading has given examples of two individuals where obsessive passion drove the individuals to become power hungry.

“His passions were at ambition’s command.” ~ James A. Caro in The Path To Power

In The Path To Power, Robert A. Caro said that Lyndon B. Johnson‘s passions were at ambition’s command. Johnson was obsessed with power and couldn’t get enough of it. The ambition for power and becoming president took over and clouded any purposeful passion for helping the people of our country. Everything he did and anyone he helped was dependent on what he could get out of it, or what power could be derived. When obsessive passion takes over with ambition calling the shots, the person’s self-worth becomes validated by whatever the ambition is. In the case of Lyndon Johnson that ambition was power.

Another person I recently studied who let obsessive passion take over was Elizabeth Holmes, Founder and CEO of Theranos. I read about her in Bad Blood: Secrets And Lies In A Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. She had purpose and passion for a world changing blood testing and analysis machine that only needed a drop or two of blood to run a myriad of tests. Her company wasn’t able to meet performance standards or efficacy. She is still involved in legal actions against her including criminal charges. Her ambition was for success as defined by celebrity, power, and greed instead of purpose for significance. To read more about this check out When Purpose and Passion Turn Into Ambition.

Does Life Imitate Art, Or Art Imitate Life?

I have been spending some time contemplating Oscar Wilde‘s thoughts on art. I love all kinds of art and consider myself an artist in terms of being creative and imaginative. I am definitely more of an artist than technocrat. I always say there is no bad art. You can refute that if you like, but Wilde and I would have been in agreement that artists should not be interested in seeking approval or creating art for demand. The instant artists, or we artistic leaders, begin to seek others approval we lose our creative juices. Think about what it is like when you are working on something and have to keep getting approval. The idiot needing the approval command and control gratification is stifling your creativity and ability to innovate. I recently wrote about this is in Empowerment Triggers The Approach System.

“…the new work of art is beautiful by being what Art has never been.” ~ Oscar Wilde

If you think about it art really means new. To truly be artistic in whatever we do whether it is leading, teaching, building, et cetera, we must be creative and innovating; we need to practice some individualism. Wilde argued “Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.” I believe if we approach everything we do as art, we would probably reach our highest potential.

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” ~ Oscar Wilde

James Ensor (Belgian, 1860 – 1949) Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889, 1888, Oil on canvas 252.7 × 430.5 cm (99 1/2 × 169 1/2 in.), 87.PA.96 The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

If you think about it, leadership and art both bring social encounters to life life. One of my favorite artworks that I believe intersects with leadership is James Ensor‘s painting Christ’s Entry Into Brussels in 1889. The painting, which began expressionism, has Jesus in the middle of a chaotic crowd of very real and very unreal characters. I was first introduced to this painting back in 2012 and then blogged about the inspiration in Rushmorean Servant Leadership. For me it was about Jesus leading from the middle, or amongst us. I do try to lead in that way while being creative. Which still begs the question of whether Wilde was right, does life imitate art or art imitate life?

How Do You Play Leader?

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This past weekend at our Indiana 3D Leadership Gathering, we did a toy activity that involved Lite Brites®. Participants made a picture that represented how the Lite Brite® could be used for great leadership. The activity was called “How Do You Play Leader?” The groups did a great job with their pictures. While they were sharing out I wrote down a few notes. Check out what I wrote down here:IMG_7860

I was particularly struck by the statement that “Great leaders really don’t have to try!” I asked the person to dig a little deeper into that comment. She said that a leader who is authentic and is himself or herself instead of trying to be someone else or copy someone else is much more effective. Great leaders find a system that works for her or him, rather than trying to force oneself into a prescribed notion of a what a leader has to be. If we know ourselves well enough, we can take steps to go about leading effectively. Situations change what we need to do, but should never change who we are. We need to make sure we’re treating all team members as we would want to be treated. We need to be genuinely interested in learning something new every day from our team, and they will follow you. It’s all about relationship building. I blogged about this in Let’s Have Lunch Together!

There was also a deep discussion about how teams are most times brought together by a certain amount of randomness and disorganized connections. Great leadership connects the randomness. Leaders should be the key connectors of team members. Support them them to understand their value in the organization. Leaders need to respect all team members. Respect comes in different forms: respecting time, respecting opinions, respecting diversity, respecting the culture, and more. When we trust and respect our team members and connect with them, they will respond with dedication and enthusiasm. Because of this, our connected team members will see clarity, levels of engagement across the organization, a positive culture and community, and most of all, improvement in communication. Remember, trust builds through connections with people and forms the bedrock of a team. Teams are built on human cooperation. Without relationships, we’ve got no team.

Silence Is Golden

I love it when one of my favorite Presidents is quoted in books that I am reading. Robert Caro included a quote from former United States Speaker Of The House Sam Rayburn credited to former President Calvin Coolidge is his book The Path To Power. Ive already blogged about Sam Rayburn in “Sam, Be A Man.”

Rayburn was credited with saying that one of the wisest statements outside of those written in the Bible was when Calvin Coolidge said, “You don’t have to explain something you never said.” This speaks to the wisdom of our 30th President. Coolidge matters and was a role model of great leadership. Sometimes the smartest thing is to say nothing at all.

“You don’t have to explain something you never said.” ~ Calvin Coolidge

This can keep us from ending up negotiating and debating against ourself. Additionally, being silent at the right times can keep there from being misunderstandings. Just because there is silence does not mean we need to talk, especially if we are not completely knowledgeable on the subject being discussed. I’ll bet if you are like me you have had times where you have wished you hadn’t said something – because you ended up having to explain it and then couldn’t.

It is also important to listen to what has already been said. Often, in meetings I say, “Everything has been said, just not by everyone yet.” I’ll bet you’ve been in meetings where everyone keeps saying the same thing or making the same point over and over, too. Robert Caro teaches us that reading biographies of leaders offers us great learning. I am certainly learning a lot from reading his work.

“Sam, Be A Man”

I have been in the Rayburn House Office Building many times in Washington D.C. I had not, however, really ever given much thought to the great man the building was named after, former Speaker Of The House Sam Rayburn. Robert Caro did a whole chapter plus on Sam Rayburn in the great book I’m reading right now, The Path To Power. I am now researching biographies on Rayburn and I am going to study his life, service, and leadership.

The part that Caro vividly portrayed is the integrity with which Sam Rayburn lived and led. He wrote the story that Rayburn told of what his dad told him when he left home for college. His dad held his hand and told him four words, “Sam, be a man.” That’s pretty powerful when you think about it. What does it mean to be a man? For Sam Rayburn it was about living and leading with honor and integrity. Rayburn would say, “There are no degrees of honorableness. You either are or you aren’t.” A very powerful two sentences to live by.

There are no degrees of honorableness. You either are or you aren’t.” ~ Former U.S. Speaker Of The House Sam Rayburn (Texas)

This reminds me of what my good friend, former U.S. Congressman Steve Buyer, used to tell me and my students each year when we visited him in room 2230 of the Rayburn House Office Building: “Your character is your legacy.” That was always so moving. My students would talk about that and try to define it for the rest of our time at the National FFA Washington Leadership Conference, and the trip home. I was so proud, as an Indiana FFA Advisor to take students to this conference every year for so many years and have my students get to meet with such a great leader. It was so impactful for me to read about the man who lived with such honor that the building was named after that housed the office of a man that was such a great leadership role model for myself and my students.

“Your character is your legacy.” ~ Former U.S. Congressman Steve Buyer (Indiana)

Our legacy grows with each new experience. Our leadership is not shaped nor our legacy defined at the end of our career or life, but rather by the moments shared, the decisions made, the actions taken, and even the mistakes made along the journey. It’s about a continual reinvention of ourself with new learning, experience, relationships, and wisdom. We need to be thinking about our personal growth and continual improvement.