Byron's Babbles

Naked Leadership

This past Thursday night, we had an incredible 3D Leadership gathering in Mooresville, North Carolina. This was the first gathering of the third cohort of our North and South Carolina leadership development program. This first time together involves an activity called, “Who Am I As A Leader Today?” The participants are all given their very own Mr. or Mrs. Potato Heads and must creatively put them together to represent who they are that day as a leader. We then circle up and everyone shares. This is always so meaningful and is such a great way to begin building a community. You can find out a lot about someone and yourself when you’ve channeled the inner Mr/Mrs Potato Head.

I am always inspired by the wild representations that participants come up with and the deep and meaningful descriptions they give. Always lots for me to blog about after these. One of the member’s presentations really jumped out at me, however, when she said she considered leaving her Mrs. Potato Head blank without putting anything on it. She shared she wanted it to represent the nakedness she felt as a new leader and her desire to learn and become clothed with knowledge. She even brought in some Bible teaching, reminding us that Jesus had come into the world a naked and humble leader of all – and, we all come into the world naked and without anything. She had gone ahead and decorated he Mrs. Potato Head because, as she told us, she needed to recognize that she does have leadership skills today, but wants to continue learning.

The entire group, including me, was blown away by this insightful reflection. Of course, I was so moved that I said I thought there was a book to be written – Naked Leadership. Everyone laughed (thank goodness), but the more I have reflected on it the more I like the title, and the metaphor it represents. For one thing, it’s a catchy title. I’ll bet some of you are reading this post just because the word naked is in the title and you needed to know who was naked. When I began to reflect and study the idea of Naked Leadership, however, I found so many important leadership lessons.

They Realized They Were Naked

In Genesis 2, the Bible says of Adam and Eve, “The eyes of both of them were opened…and they realized they were naked.” As leaders we must have our eyes opened and realize we do not know everything. We need an attitude of personal professional growth and a desire to actively listen to others.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

I love the children’s fairytale The Emperor’s New Clothes. This might have application as a leadership fable for learning more today than at any point in history. You know the story… the emperor was very vain and loved new clothes, so some swindlers took advantage of this. They told the emperor they could fashion the most beautiful cloth ever made that could only be seen by someone who was stupid. So, emperor gave them gold, expensive silk and other items to make the cloth. Of course, these were swindlers who did not make anything but steal the items. Let’s skip to the end of the story…the emperor goes out with his new clothes which were allegedly invisible, and, of course, is naked. No one has the courage to tell the emperor he is naked until he comes to a little boy who says, “But he doesn’t have anything on!” It took the innocence of a child to make the emperor realize he had no clothes.

Wouldn’t we be more effective leaders if we were able to recognize our own nakedness without even needing to be told, as our 3D Leadership participant suggested? This would, I believe, open us up to being advised by others to our nakedness as well. The other part of the story that most never go on to talk about is that once the empower realizes he really is naked, he continues on, naked, because of his desire to not admit being wrong and his extreme vanity.

I don’t know if the Naked Leadership book will ever get written. I hope it does, but in the meantime we all need to recognize our metaphorical nakedness and be open to finding ways for clothing ourselves with the skills of great leadership. How about you; Do you have any ideas for chapters in the Naked Leadership book?

Living Is Having A Past Full Of Mistakes

The other day as I was having dinner with a good friend I was talking about some mistakes I had made. He said, “Byron, part of living is having a past full of mistakes.” Wow, how true this is! And, how impactful it was to hear from this. As a person who never worries about failure and tries to learn from every mistake, it was huge to talk this out.

The thing to remember and tell ourselves, however, is that the mistake was not on purpose. We didn’t misunderstand circumstances or miscalculate a situation on purpose. Would we forgive someone else? Sure! So we need to remember to forgive ourselves too, and fail forward. This all doesn’t qualify if the mistake or failure was while taking a risk. That is the nature of risk taking and is necessary.

Then, we just need to do everything we can to fix the mistake. That may mean talking to someone, coming up with a better solution, or letting someone else help out. I always say to others, “There’s nothing you can screw up bad enough that the sun won’t come out tomorrow. And, if it doesn’t, it won’t matter anyway.” Remember, we are human and not infallible.

Finally, we need to take the position that we will be smarter next time. We need to learn from mistakes. Just as others have had amnesia about our past mistakes, we need to have amnesia about others. This is truly having compassion.

Let’s Have Lunch Together!

Last night we started our third cohort of 3D Leadership in Indiana. Hard to believe we have started our third year. Just seems like yesterday that I began putting the curriculum together for this program. Last night as we were discussing relationship building as a function of leadership, one of our participants, Sarah Medve, shared a story that really touched me and the rest of the group.

Sarah said she realized that she needed to do a better job of building relationships. Sarah also realized that she was missing out on building work friendships and collaboration because instead of taking time to eat lunch with coworkers she was making copies, grading papers, or any of the many other tasks of the day. This great teacher leader explained she has begun making sure all her tasks are done at other times so she can stop and eat lunch with others. Then Sarah told us she had fun eating lunch with others and did not want to miss it. Wow! This is a big deal!

We all do it, though. Work through lunch or sit alone and check emails. Sharing meals together, however, builds relationships. Eating together provides time to get to know each other and encourage cooperation through informal communication. Eating lunch together also increases productivity because it widens our perspectives. Eating together is a powerful act.

Researchers at Cornell University argued that eating lunch together has a much more positive effect on organizational community than the artificial activities that many organizations use like rope courses and things we call team building activities. These things are sometimes offsite and require a lot of energy. The Cornell study showed that employees (in the case of this study – firefighters) make fun of and do not see any value in them (Kniffin, et al., 2015).

This insightful story from our teacher leader reminded us all of the benefits of commensality. Coworkers that eat lunch together feel more like family and build friendships. So, we need to learn from our teacher leader, Sarah Medve, and make time to eat together with fellow teachers and staff. Why? Because, as Sarah so insightfully told us, it is fun and she feels closer to her coworkers. The rest of us leaders need to think more about providing opportunities for employees to eat together and do away with the manufactured and trite team-building exercises.

You might be interested to know that after our gathering we all went to Jockamo’s and had dinner together. It was so much fun and we learned a lot about each other. It was nice to put into practice what we were learning in 3D Leadership. I know I left feeling much closer to the group.

REFERENCE

Kniffin, K.M., Wansink, B., Devine, C. M., & Sobal, J. (2015). Eating Together at the Firehouse: How Workplace Commensality Relates to the Performance of Firefighters, Human Performance, 28:4, 281-306,DOI: 10.1080/08959285.2015.1021049

Empowerment Triggers The Approach System

IMG_7712There has been a great deal written about student agency, student choice, and empowerment. In fact, just yesterday I was working with teachers on how to empower student in such a way to get to a self (student) managed classroom. Student agency and choice refer to learning by doing activities that are meaningful and relevant to learners, driven by their interests, chosen by the student, and often student (self) initiated. As a teacher, I loved giving students a stake in choosing from opportunities provided for them; or many times letting them come up with options. These opportunities might include giving the choice between doing a project, making a presentation, writing a paper, creating a product, or other activities. This ability to choose, or have agency, empowers the students, which leads to greater investment of interest and/or motivation.

25066556._SY475_Like I said, I used student agency for years as a teacher and promote it as a major tenant of project based learning. It seems that this is really brain-based. Yesterday, I finished reading the great book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy. While this was not an education book, the principles of empowerment and powerlessness triggers that apply to our presence as a leader, also apply to the way we engage students.

In the book, Cuddy explained the approach and inhibition systems of the brain. This explanation came from the 2003 study of psychologist Dacher Keltner. The approach system is made up of regions in the brain that promote curiosity, being adventurous, and trying new things. The inhibition system, promotes cautious behavior. Too much of this causes us to see threats where others recognize opportunities. In other words, it stifles us. Think about these two systems both from a leadership standpoint and a student engagement perspective.

Keltner argued that empowerment triggers the approach system. In other words, if we believe we are empowered we are able to be more curious, adventurous, and willing to try new things. Doesn’t this sound like how we would like our students to be every moment of every day? Conversely, Keltner posited that powerlessness triggers the inhibition system. As was explained earlier, this causes cautiousness. Think about this from a leadership or educational perspective. When we empower others and give them autonomy this triggers our approach system, and contrarily when we take power and agency away and add constraints we trigger inhibition. Remember, power is the ability to change something. Do we not want our students and team members to be in a position to do this?

Bottom-line: the approach system will respond to rewards and opportunities and the inhibition system responds to constraints, threats, and punishments. Really if you think about this it is pretty simple. These two systems in our brain exert powerful influence over our actions, motivations, and emotions. How are you empowering? How are causing powerlessness? It could be as simple as giving student agency removing constraints, or not have having team members go through a bunch of compliance hoops of approval. Let’s keep these triggers in mind as we navigate 2020.

366 Page Best Selling Autobiography

In the past few days there has been plenty said and written about New Year’s Resolutions. Why do people bother? I even saw (notice I didn’t say “read”) a blog with 15 steps to keeping your resolutions. Really! Why do we put ourselves through that process for failure.

If I was going to have a New Year’s Resolution, however, it would be to appreciate my friends every day and catch more fish. Pretty doable, I believe. And, unlike where we do things like get an accountability partner (which, by the way, just adds stress to someone else’s life) this resolution is fun for your friends. Who wouldn’t want to go to lunch and catch up, or go fishing?

In my morning motivational message, that I tweet and post on LinkedIn (notice it’s not an email I force people to deal with – it’s a choice for someone to go look at it) each day, I said, “Today is the first blank page of a 366 page autobiography. Make it a best seller.” I really believe if we approach every day as a page to a best seller we could write a pretty good book.

Best selling and Pulitzer Prize author Robert Caro says, “I have to produce every day.” Caro has written massive volumes about Robert Moses, New York City shaper, and President Lyndon B. Johnson. He will tell you these books are not about the men, but about power – getting it, using it, becoming abscessed with it, and abusing it. I have read The Power Broker and it is awesome. I am planning to start the series on Lyndon Johnson this year.

Many have asked Caro over the years about his work habits, and there have even been interviews. Therefore, even though he was not done with the last volume of his books on Lyndon B. Johnson, he took time to write Working. In this book, which is a great read by the way, he outlines how he goes about doing the work of writing these in-depth books on power. What stuck out to me was when he wrote that he writes 1,000 words per day. Then at the beginning of the next day he reviews and revises the writing of the previous day and writes another 1,000.

See where I’m going here? What a great metaphor on this New Years Day! We need to approach this New Leap Year as a blank pad to write 1,000 words per day for a 366 page best selling autobiography. Each day we can reflect on the previous day, but then get to work on the next 1,000 metaphorical words that are our life. So maybe, just maybe it’s this simple: produce every day.

Best Books Of 2019

Screen Shot 2019-12-29 at 12.48.09 PMI was asked yesterday what the top five books I read in 2019 were. I had to really think about the question, because I do not read to rank them. In fact when I have a book recommended to me I always ask what am I going to learn from it. Reading for me is a way to open my mind to new ideas or hone skills. I hate it when someone reads a book and then wants to somehow miraculously put everything in place. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s why book reads, and there is research that backs this up, are not effective. As I reflected on the question, however, I decided to go back and see which books I read this year were referenced in my blog posts. This is a partial indication of learning from the books being used in the real-time pondering I am doing.

My Best Books Of 2019

So, here’s what I did first: I went back through my over 100 blog posts from this year and flagged every one which referenced a book I read in 2019. There were 22 posts referencing 20 of the books I read. I have those those posts organized in no particular order by four books at a time. Remember, these 20 books should be considered as part of the Best Books In 2019 that I read. If you read the posts you will find what lesson(s) I learned from the book, and there is a link to the book and the author in each post. Here are the posts:

Collaboration and Get Some Sleep and Self-Awareness

When Leaders Go Bad

Cheesecake Talk Triggers

Leading Influence Formula

Overworked and Overwhelmed

Leading By Metaphor

Do Others Like The Vibes You Give Off?

Leading Toward Morale

What We Know, And Don’t Quite Know We Know

Leading Without Kitschy Trinkets

Developing & Supporting Our Students: Future Identity Versus No Future Identity

Joyful and Leading With A Touch Of Quirkiness

Loving America

Benevolent Leadership and The Tigress Of Forli

Think Fast & Answer Quickly

 

Do You Have The Inexhaustible Ability To Just Live?

Are You Setting Precedent?

MacGyver Intersectional Leadership

My Top 5 Books Of 2019

I know what you are thinking; I did not answer the original question of what my top five books of 2019 were. Even though I hate doing it, because I have gained so much value from all the books I read, but I won’t let myself of the hook. After a great deal of reflection here they are:

  1. The Tigress Of Forli: Renaissance Italy’s Most Courageous And Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici by Elizabeth Lev
  2. On Grand Strategy by John Lewis Gaddis
  3. The Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics Can Tell Us About Innovation by Frans Johansson
  4. Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide To Creating Customers With Word Of Mouth by Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin
  5. The Pioneers: The Heroic Story Of The Settlers Who Brought The American Ideal West by David McCullough

As you can see, 2019 was quite the year of reading. I am still working on what my reading goal will be for 2020. Remember, leaders are readers! Happy New Year!

 

Assessing Mental Impact

Today during a meeting I made a comment that we needed to assess the mental impact that a decision would make. This term made an impression on the group who said they had never thought about the mental impact a decision would have on others. We then proceeded to discuss the impacts.

I really wasn’t trying to come up with new terminology, but when I reflected on the great discussion I decided to look up mental impact. Guess what I found? Nothing. It seems I’m on to something. Again, it is not anything that is earth shattering; it is just doing the right thing. It is about considering how any decision made will affect those impacted by a decision.

Great leaders understand how to balance emotion with reason and make decisions that positively impact themselves, their employees, their customers and stakeholders, and their organizations. Making good decisions in difficult situations is no small feat because these decisions involve change. We must consider the mental impact these decisions have because change involves uncertainty, anxiety, stress, and sometimes unfavorable reactions of others. To get this right, I believe we must approach decisions as human beings and not humans doing.

Our core values come into play here. Never forget that our actions testify much more powerfully than words. Therefore, taking time to evaluate the mental impact of our decisions on people. Nearly every decision we make will affect different people in one way or another. We need to take time to understand and be fully aware of the influence our decisions will have, and understand what the mental impact will be on all individuals.

Constant connection with people enables us to recognize opportunities and threats, and figure out how to be adaptive to these threats or opportunities. Habitual outreach and taking stock of mental impact prevents insular thinking, opens doors to ideas and collaborative relationships, and expands our ability to problem- solve. By taking mental impact into account leaders can make better decisions.

Success In Aspirational Terms

This past week I heard a person say that “success should be measured in aspirational terms.” The more I thought about it, the more I like it. In education I believe we need to think more aspirational in the way we prepare students. In other words looking beyond just credits and a diploma to the outcomes of what a student should be able to do now and be capable of learning to do later.

Let’s use an example that gets used a lot – welding. It is short-sided to think that having a student be in the single pathway of learning to fuse two pieces of metal together is enough. Don’t get me wrong, good careers await the student, but that’s not aspirational enough. This is why I believe in achieving multiple pathways. A student with aspirations for welding should also be studying computer science. Computers have become an indispensable part of welding processes. Computer, and even artificial intelligence, are required for the execution of many welding operations today. We can only imagine this need for knowledge of computer science will increase. Industry is telling us that welders will need knowledge of lasers, computer program, robotics, artificial intelligence, materials engineering, and systems integration to advance.

With the increased demand for highly skilled and technically sound workers, our students will need to shape their careers around multiple areas of expertise. This aspirational approach will enable their lifelong learning and ability to be agile to a ever-increasingly fast changing world.

We need to be deliberately aligning our student’s aspirations and abilities. The scene in the movie “The Martianwhere it doesn’t look like it will end well for astronaut Mark Watney he sends this message to be relayed to his parents:

“Tell them I love what I do and I’m really good at it. And that I’m dying for something big and beautiful and greater than me. Tell them I said I can live with that.” ~ Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, in The Martian (2015)

Try and tell me that’s not aspirational. We all need to find what we love and what we are good at. It’s not either or, and we need to help students find that balance as well. Some would say that aspiration is magical thinking. I don’t believe it is a magic trick to strategize about the future, help students invent themselves and us reinvent ourselves, push upscale, and keep a growth mindset. Without deep thought and planning about measuring success in aspirational terms, it just becomes a vacuous platitude, or “thing,” as I like to say. But taken in the context of enabling the future, career/skill agility, and student outcomes, measuring success in aspirational terms becomes about being prepared for what we don’t know we need to be prepared for.

Leading With Compassionate Solutions

One of the driving forces of exceptional leadership is compassion. I am working through a situation right now that prompted the much appreciated text pictured above from a staff member and thought partner I am working on the situation with. Usually I pride myself on being very creative and innovative, but to be credited for finding a compassionate solution made me feel good and made me reflect on whether I was consistently a compassionate leader.

To be great, leaders must have the necessary empathy to inspire understanding and knowledge in team members. I teach about this in the leadership trainings I do. Empathy begins with taking an understanding from the experience and perception of another. Empathy, however, is just about understanding. Empathy is about opening doors and removing confusion. Compassion is the action step; compassion is about actually doing something.

The compassionate leader can then be creative in solving situations, problems, and opportunities. Looking for compassionate solutions allows the leader to look past “the easy way out” referenced in the text pictured above. This allows the team to look at challenges as opportunities to be dealt with as obstacles, not barriers. Barriers stop completely and obstacles can be removed, gone around, over, or under. I blogged about this in Obstacles Vs. Barriers. Actually, I said to the author of the above text, “Let’s make sure we look at any challenges as obstacles and not barriers. We are not allowing any barriers.” The compassionate leader seeks to understand people, families, and communities; knowing that understanding is the gateway to having the greatest influence as a leader.

Manatee Leadership Lessons

 

Yesterday, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to learn leadership lessons from the West Indian Manatee. Our Central Florida/Tampa 3D Leadership Program participants decided that we would start our gathering at the Tampa Electric Company Manatee Viewing Center. The Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach delivers reliable electricity to the community. When the Tampa Bay water temperature reaches 68ºF or colder, the Manatees gather in large numbers in the power station’s discharge canal, where saltwater – taken from Tampa Bay to cool Unit 4 flows, clean and warm, back to the bay. The discharge canal is a state and federally designated Manatee sanctuary that provides critical protection from the cold for these unique, gentle animals. It has also been developed into an incredible education center dedicated to the Manatee, Sting Ray, birds, butterflies, and other wildlife and plant life indigenous to the area. I even got to smell the breath of a Manatee. For the farm kid from Indiana this was an incredible experience.

Prior to arriving for the experience I did a a little studying and learned how the Manatee handle thermoregulation by doing central-place grazing. In other words, they go out into the cold bay water to graze on plant life (they are herbivores) and then come back to the warm water near the power plant to get warmed up. I was also able to study the migratory maps of these amazing mammals.

The objective of participants was to come up with the leadership lessons learned from our Manatee experience. Here is what we came up:

  1. Must be caring
  2. Adaptive to change
  3. Lead by example
  4. Able to function alone
  5. Still move forward through the unknown

As you can see there are so many great leadership lessons to be learned from studying and observing these wonderful animals. I have done other blog posts with lessons from animals, such as Pelican Leadership Lessons, Living and Leading Like A Lobster, and Leading Like A Platypus. Using animals as metaphors for great leadership is a great way to learn and teach leadership. Do you have any examples? Share them by replying to my post.