Byron's Babbles

Having A Sharp Eye For Capacity

Mark Twain said, “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Unfortunately, Twain was taken advantage of more than once during his life. But he always tried to “do right.” I am reading Mark Twain’s autobiography right now and it is amazing. He dictated much of his autobiography and purposely wrote it as memories came to mind, not in chronology order. For some of my more linear friends this might drive you crazy. Those that know me, know I am loving this non-conventional approach. I love it because in his “twittering” (yes that is a word used by Twain a great deal and I now know where the name for Twitter came from) he talks about friends, how he met them, and his interactions.

One such friend was Henry Huttleston Rogers, the Standard-Oil magnate who became one of the most powerful tycoons of his day. Twain first met Rogers in New York in 1893 at a time when Twain’s unfortunate financial ventures had led him to the verge of bankruptcy. Rogers helped sort out Twain’s commercial enterprises and saved the author’s copyrights. In the autobiography, Twain expressed his gratitude saying, “His wisdom and steadfastness saved my copyrights from being swallowed up in the wreck…and his commercial wisdom has protected my pocketbook ever since.” These two became great and very close friends.

One of the things that Twain recognized in Rogers was “he [Rogers] has a sharp eye for capacity.” I love that Twain picked up on Roger’s ability to see the talent and ability in others and then develop those individuals. Twain discussed this being one of the key ingredients of Rogers’ success. This just shows how important it is for leaders to hone this skill, or find ways to sharpen the eye for capacity. I was working with a group of school principals yesterday and we were discussing this very subject.

We can distill the notion of capacity to the skills, knowledge and abilities of an individual. We must sharpen our ability to recognize capacity and then build that capacity in people. Consequently, our teams and organizations will become more resilient and stronger. The greatest leaders recognize and build on the strengths of others and what they have to say. They are a voice among many in conversations, and not just a voice that tells others what to do. As Twain said in his autobiography, “If everybody was satisfied with himself there would be no heroes.” Let’s not be satisfied. Let’s work hard to recognize and build capacity in those we serve.

Wanna Into Gonna

As I was flying home from facilitating a leadership professional development gathering yesterday I noticed what was written on the Southwest Airlines napkin. The Southwest business model has always been intriguing to me and I was struck by what was on the napkin, “In 1971, a triangle scribbled on a napkin transformed a dream into an airline and a wanna into a gonna.” I love the thought of a wanna becoming a gonna. This is also a reminder that it takes action to make dreams realities. We also, can’t do it all ourselves.

Whether it is making the plan visible and real on a napkin or just getting to work, the point is we have to start somewhere. There is a whole lot to what Herb Kelleher had to do to get Southwest Airlines off the ground (pun intended). I’ll let you do all the reading on that, but the point is we need to plan out turning our wanna into gonna. Also, remember, in this age of crediting everything to rugged individualism, no-one accomplishes things by themselves. We all need someone that provides us with the assist. It is very disingenuous to tell our kids that if they just work hard they will succeed. That is simply not true. It is an important part, for sure, but not the end-all-be-all. We all need those that provide us with privilege for accomplishing our dreams. Yes, Kelleher had tenacity and stuck with it, but he had people all around him, including his employees who he cared for deeply helping him get it done.

What dream triangle do you need to scribble on a napkin, and who can help you turn your wanna into a gonna?

What Does Success Look Like?

“They’re not sure how to please their boss, how to behave around their teammates, or what a good job looks like” (Blanchard & Conley, 2022, p. 39). Ever been there? I’ll bet many of you reading this have experienced this. Or, after listening to a leader pontificate about all her great values have someone lean over to you and say, “All talk! She doesn’t actually do or live out any of that.” I have experienced this all first hand and it’s not a good place to be. We all need and deserve to know what the expectations are and what success looks like. In fact, that is one of my favorite questions to ask: “What does success look like?” And, as we work shoulder to shoulder with those we serve, we need to model the expectations. As a teacher, principal, and superintendent I always said, and still do, that our students will live up to our expectations – so, let’s set them high and model them.

Then in Simple Truth #13, “You Get From People What You Expect”, in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practice by Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley reminded us that expectations are so much more than words. We were also reminded that “You must walk your talk, or your words are meaningless” (p. 39). This really resonated with me as I have always been such a believer in modeling by walking the talk and walking the walk. In fact I have a picture in my office of penguins walking the talk. I used it as the feature photo of the blog post Walking The Talk! and am using it again for this post because it means so much to me and is such an important reminder. We need to paint a very clear picture for all those we serve, by walking the talk, of what success looks like.

Where Do We Put The First Brick?

During our final session of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) 2022 Legislative Conference, Scott Palmer of the Education Counsel, told the story that his grandfather said he could build a bridge if someone told him where to place the first brick. Then, he asked the panel he was moderating to tell where they would place the first brick as we continue recovery from COVID and redesign education. For me, this is about stopping the throwing of bricks at each other. Let’s have the difficult conversations and get it figured out for our scholars.

We all need to be rethinking what the opportunity to learn means. My first metaphorical brick, however, is that we need to find every child. Now, in our 514th day of the Global Pandemic, we have many students that have become anonymous. We need to find every child and make sure we are giving them the opportunity to learn. Then we need to take an integrated systems approach to:

  • integrate all outside experiences the scholars have.
  • we need to rethink the time and place of learning.
  • we need to consider the time and place of learning.
  • we need to consider the different paradigms for opportunities to learn.
  • we need to provide critical experiences for all our students.
  • we need to take into account the ecology of a young person’s experiences;
    • all the adults that students experience and interact with.
    • the other students in their lives.
    • the extracurricular and other activities outside the traditional school day.

I continue to say that school is no longer just a place. We need to shift the system to meet the needs of every kid, not have the kids shift to meet the needs of the system.

I’ll leave you with this thought: Whatever we want to be true for our students has to be true for their teachers, including experiencing safety, belonging, and purpose in the community of school.

What Is The Point Of A Theory?

Recently, I heard someone say, “What is the point of a theory if no one is going to test it.” It was a great point because that is the point of a theory. A theory is a special language that explains and helps us understand some phenomenon, for example, learning, motivation, or administration (Tosi, 2009). The major function of a theory is to describe and explain – in fact, theory is a general explanation, which often leads to basic principles. This has really got me to thinking that so many times we leave the important part of creating a theory when trying to solve some issue. It is why developing a theory of action is so important.

I love the idea of heuristic learning and strive to create environments in my work facilitating professional development for that kind of learning to occur. Heuristic learning is the ability to discover for oneself while doing something. Therefore, a theory is heuristic because it stimulates and guides the further development of knowledge. We all use theories to guide our actions. Some are implicit, and others are explicit; in fact, many of our personal implicit theories are formal ones that have been internalized Hoy & Adams 2016). I believe that if we want coherence and accountability we must start with a theory of action and then test it. We can start by asking, “What is the challenge you are trying to solve?”


Tosi, H.L. (2009). Theories of organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Hoy W. K. & Adams C. M. (2016). Quantitative Research in Education – A Primer. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Challenging Assumptions With Lateral Thinking

In the great book The Martian, Andy Weir uses the term “lateral thinking” to describe what NASA was doing a lot of to keep astronaut Mark Watney alive and bring him home from Mars. It won’t surprise anyone who knows me that I love lateral thinking. Lateral thinking is a tool used worldwide, knowingly/unknowingly by many individuals for a creative output/product. Psychologist Dr. Edward de Bono originated the term lateral thinking and is a proponent of the teaching of thinking as a subject in schools. Imagine that – teaching students to think. Lateral thinking processes provide guidance for thinking out of the box, thinking and creating something that has never been thought of. Just what was needed for Mark Watney’s success return to home in the novel and the real life return home of Apollo 13.

” Intelligence is something we are born with. Thinking is a skill that must be learned.”

~ Dr. Edward de Bono

Lateral thinking looks at things from a sideways perspective in order to find answers that aren’t immediately apparent. In other words, being able to think creatively or “outside the box” in order to solve a problem. Lateral thinking is very situational. Lateral thinking leads to changes in attitude and approach; to looking in a different way at things which have always been looked at in the same way. Liberation from old ideas and the stimulation of new ones are twin aspects of lateral thinking.

With lateral thinking we challenge assumptions and generate alternatives – what many call “out of the box thinking.” I didn’t even know there was a box! This is why I am such a believer in using real world and relevant contexts when facilitating learning. Notice I didn’t say teaching. When students are in a productive struggle working out a real world problem or issue, they are learning to learn and think and be creative. Whether we serve adults or young scholars we need facilitate learning that hones their ability to develop original answers to difficult questions. Why is this so important? Because in our world today, traditional solutions are unlikely to get the desired result. We all remember that failure was not an option on Apollo 13. How was failure averted? The “voyage and return” lateral thinking.

Creating Autonomy Is More Than Stepping In A Puddle

Simple Truth #12, “Create Autonomy Through Boundaries”, in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practice by Ken Blanchardand Randy Conley reminded me of what my friend and mentor David Marquet always says, “[empowerment and agency without developing the technical skills will create chaos.” Blanchard reminded us of this in this chapter when he said, “Ensure people are aware of all procedures, rules, and laws” (p. 37). The development, goals, expectations, and accountability give us the boundaries.

“A river without banks is a large puddle.”

John Carlos and Alan Randolph in Empowerment Takes More Than A Minute

Just yesterday, as I was in a gathering as a part of some Aspen Institute work in education I am doing right now, we were contemplating how to make sure our educators are have the professional growth and development to do all the work that science tells us is necessary to enhance the quality and depth of student learning when the students have opportunities to interact with others and make meaningful connections to subject material. This is really a combination of the teachers and students having the autonomy to do this important work. Therefore, it is important for organizations to take a systems approach to promoting development and addressing both student and adult skills and beliefs; organizational culture, climate, and norms; and routines and structures that guide basic interactions and instruction. I don’t believe this looks much different no matter what the organization is in the business of doing. If we want more than a “puddle” of autonomy we must create the meaningful opportunities for developing the right ethos for autonomy, agency, and empowerment.

Overrated Advice

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Education, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 13, 2022

It’s one thing to give advice to someone else, dispensing thoughtful words of wisdom. But have you ever noticed that when you try applying those same suggestions to your own life and it often falls apart. I was reminded of this when I heard someone yesterday say, “Taking your own advice is highly overrated.” Really it is all about vantage point. It’s much easier to identify the most rational option, on the other hand, when you’ve got an outsider’s vantage point. From your own perspective it is hard to be your own coach because you’re too close to your own problems, and so your emotions are more likely to cloud your judgement.

It’s not easy to step outside of our minds and see ourselves objectively. To see our own abilities and to know that we’re just as strong as anyone else out there. When we don’t take our own advice and encouragement, however, we become a hypocrite. In as much as we look to others to set an example, they also look at us to do the same for them. Let’s also not forget that on some issues we have a tendency to prefer their own opinions, irrespective of their merit, and the fact that careful listening is hard, time-consuming work. Maybe the best example we can set is to always seek sound coaching, counsel, and advice from others.

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.

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.