Byron's Babbles

Contrarian Thinker

One day, this past week, I was introduced to a group I was speaking to as a “Contrarian Thinker.” Honestly, I wasn’t exactly sure what that was. After doing a little research, however, I found that this was probably a pretty accurate description. Contrarian thinkers are trailblazers. ✔️Check. They are polarizing visionaries who are just as likely to be called crazy before brilliant. ✔️Check. Contrarian thinkers have the foresight to see hidden opportunities and seize them when the right moment presents itself. I would like to think I do this, but I’m not so arrogant to say check on this one.

Never forget, the risks of going against the crowd are greater, but so are the rewards. The rewards of innovating, curiosity, and an imagination gone wild are always worth the effort. An important fact for a contrarian thinker to remember is that no one will be expecting you or your ideas to succeed, which is one of the reasons you will.

Then, last night as I was flipping through the channels (are they still called channels on the tv?) I stopped on Shark Tank long enough to hear Mark Cuban described by one of the other Sharks as a contrarian thinker. So, off I went to learn more about his storied history.

While reading 9 Critical Turning Points That Shaped Mark Cuban’s Extraordinary Career by Drake Baer, I found that Mark Cuban is a contrarian thinker. One of my favorite quotes from Mark Cuban in the article is, “The ‘sprint’ doesn’t have a finish line. There’s never a point where you can say, ‘We’ve made it.'”

The more I studied this topic, however, I really found that many contrarian thinkers always find an opposing view. I don’t think that is me at all. Nor do I believe that would be very productive. A more productive view would be one of “independent thinker.” My takeaway to share with you is that rather than always being swayed by consensus view, or consistently being a contrarian, we should strive to be independent thinkers. I always strive, and would encourage you to as well, look at different perspectives, and sometimes find a unique angle.

Remember, if you think the same way as everyone else, it is very difficult to outperform them.

The Majestic Leader

I had the opportunity to spend this week in Palm Springs, California for Aurora Institute’s annual symposium. The theme of this year’s symposium was Shining A Light On The Future Of Learning. Palm Springs is such a beautiful place located in the Coachella Valley. Palm Springs is completely surrounded by mountains; the San Bernardino Mountains to the north, the Santa Rosa Mountains to the south, by the San Jacinto Mountains to the west, and by the Little San Bernardino Mountains to the east.

These mountains are the cause for this post. I was visiting with a friend from the state of Washington about how the mountains were different than other mountains. She described them as being “majestic”. That seemed like an appropriate adjective, but I needed to think a little about just what majestic meant. It is an adjective meaning, having or showing impressive beauty or display great dignity. Also, majestic befits a great ruler and being simply far superior to everyday stuff. I was now fully on board with the mountains surrounding Palm Springs being described as majestic.

Then I got to thinking about majestic people I know. There are those with majestic beauty and those who are majestic leaders – those that display great dignity. I then reflected on what gave them that beauty. For me it is their referent power. Referent power is one of the most potent and majestic sources of power for a leader there is. It is a form of reverence gained from having tremendous interpersonal relationship skills. Referent power has become much more important as we move from command and control organizational environments to more collaborative and flattened hierarchical environments of influence.

Leaders with high referent power influence because of the follower’s admiration, respect, and identification with her or him. Think about this description when looking at the picture I took of the San Jacinto Mountains while I was in Palm Springs shown here: These majestic mountains are a pretty appropriate metaphor for a majestic leader, don’t you think? I couldn’t let the metaphor end there, however. I then got to thinking about how if we, as leaders, get this influence right, the view is beautiful. This made me think of the awesome picture I got from the top of Mount San Jacinto at 8,516 feet shown here: Getting leadership right is such a beautiful and majestic thing for both the influenced and influencer.

Toy Story 4 Leadership

Don’t laugh, but as I flew across our awesome country yesterday to Palm Springs, California for the 2019 iNACOL (now named the Aurora Institute) Symposium, I was excited to get to watch Toy Story 4. I’m a fan of Toy Story; not just because they are great movies, but also because of the Pixar story and the lessons in the movies. I was certainly not disappointed by the gang of toys getting back together with the addition of new toys. There were so many great connections to the leadership lessons I facilitate in our 3D Leadership program. I even took notes on a napkin.

There were six big standout lessons in the movie:

1. From Forky I was reminded that we need to understand our value and the value others bring to our teams and organizations.

It is so important we know and understand our strengths. Then, it is crucial we have people working to their strengths. Too many times we move people and change roles, sometimes in an attempt to promote, without any regard to whether it is the “right” role based on strengths. Remember, you bring value. Forky needed to realize he was a toy even though not in the traditional sense. He brought value to Bonnie. Let’s not forget, she created Forky.

2. Great leaders are not always seen. Woody was helping Bonnie through her first day of school without her even knowing it. Without being seen Woody got her crayons for her and got her the materials to make Forky. He was helping her, being a servant leader, without her knowing it.

It’s easy to think leaders must be front and center and seen. Leaders don’t have to be seen, though. Leaders can do great work from the background. Great leaders gently guide people without them knowing you were there or were leading them.

3. The toys practiced adaptive leadership. Throughout the entire show, strategy was agile and constantly changing. Interestingly, all the toys led from where they were. Several times during the movie I heard toys say, “I have an idea, let’s do this.” The other toys would then team up and carry it out.

4. Buzz Lightyear led from where he was. Buzz had not really been a leader in the other three Toy Story movies, but he had to step up in this one because Woody wasn’t present. Buzz stepped up and filled the leadership void.

5. At one point in the film, Bo Peep exclaimed to Woody, “Look around, nobody’s with you.” We must remember that leadership is influence and if no one is with us when we turn around we are not having an influence.

6. At one point Woody said, “Because it’s the only thing I have to do.” Woody was resisting transition into another role, or in other words, he was resisting change. Know times of transition are not easy. Yet, to grow, there will always be transitions. Change is a good thing. Don’t let the pain of transitions stop them from happening.

There are so many more lessons in Toy Story 4 to be dissected, but those are my big takeaways for now. If you have watched the film, I would love to hear your takeaways. Let’s keep leading to “infinity and beyond”!

Typical Discourse

Posted in Civilized Disdain, Discourse, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, NASBE, Typical Discourse by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 19, 2019

IMG_7106Earlier this week during our National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) Board of Directors meeting a comment was made during a discussion about our Public Education Position report about “typical discourse”. The comment was that we did not practice typical discourse any more. This got me thinking about what was “typical discourse”, anyway? I guess I see typical discourse as having vigorous debate about what to do with challenges and opportunities. This vigorous, honest, and transparent debate must involve all stakeholders, different political parties, and the entire political spectrum.

So, we have a complicated challenge on so many fronts. These fronts include education reform, equity issues, workforce, economy, and real human suffering just to name a few. This amounts to desperate need for a vigorous debate and our best thinking. Instead, it seems we have become a society of character assassination. In many cases we have become trivial, oriented toward turf protection, and despicable. This reminds me of what I believe the Ancient Greeks called an “ad hominem” attack. With this attack, the opponent attacks us personally, changes the subject, and uses “virtue signaling”. I blogged about virtue signaling in Leading Without “Virtue Signaling”.

Bottom line: we have strayed from civilized disdain and discourse and safe disagreement. I blogged about these in Safe Disagreement and Civilized Disdain Vs. Political Correctness. We need to find a way to turn discourse back to something substantial. Let’s work together to get to useful dialogue.

Benevolent Leadership

Posted in Benevolent Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadery, Servant Leadership, Visionary Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 27, 2019

I am reading a really interesting book, Tigress of Forli, right now about Caterina Riario Sforza. She was a great leader who started her leadership journey at age 10 in an arranged marriage. It caught my attention when the author, Elizabeth Lev, described Caterina as a “benevolent leader”. She was described as making sure the needs of her people and of the greater community were cared for. I then began to think about what it meant to be a benevolent leader or policy maker.

Being a benevolent leader has nothing to do with being a philanthropist, a humanitarian, or being altruistic. It’s about creating greater opportunities for our communities, states, nations, and the world. It’s really about creating different possibilities in the world. It’s about, as Caterina taught us, developing a sustainable future for the world and everyone living in it. Additionally, benevolent leaders use their leadership influence to address significant societal, human, and environmental needs. Really it is about being innovative for the greater good.

Think about a world where leaders wished well for everyone. I believe it is about being aware of what one’s actions create for everyone. This is what I talk about when complaining about turf and self-interest. I have blogged about this in The Frustrating Truth Of Turf. It is difficult for us, at times, to get past what might look best for us and think about the good of all.

Last evening in our Carolinas session of 3D Leadership we discussed becoming more externally oriented as opposed to internally motivated in order to move from serving to create normal leadership to facilitating fundamental leadership. We concluded this would give us more episodes of excellence. The driving question becomes, “What can we create together?” Also, what if we began to look at what could be expanded, instead of what has to be cut?

The world is a system. I believe we forget this at times. Every decision made either creates or depletes the ability to collaboratively innovate for the betterment of all. How about you? Are you wishing well for all? I’m so glad I had the opportunity to study Caterina Riario Sforza and the example of a benevolent leader.

Think Fast & Answer Quickly

I am reading the great book The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro. This book is about the leadership and power of Robert Moses. One of the strengths and attributes that people he worked with said he had was his ability to think fast and answer quickly. The context was his ability to quickly make a decision when asked a question or asked how to correct something and articulate the answer.

Usually, I consider myself a slow processor. I’m the one that when a meeting is ready to end will have a few questions to be answered or comments to be made. In other words, I’m a processor. This, I believe is very different than thinking fast and answering quickly. Actually, after thinking about this deeply I would argue this is a skill set we should develop and hone. Here’s why: it comes down to actively listening. We must work hard at actively listening. This means carefully listening to the very end. This also means resisting the urge to start formulating the answer before the other person is done asking the question. Concentrating on the question, rather than your answer, will result in a more thoughtful answer.

We are better and more powerful leaders when we are able to think on our feet, gather our thoughts quickly and deliver our points convincingly. The best leaders are able to do this. Think about it; we live in an unscripted world. Therefore, we must prepare ourselves to think fast and answer quickly.

Several years ago I was judging 30-40 sheep, cattle, and hog shows around the nation each year. I always said that many show committees asked me to judge because I was consistent (you always knew what I was going to pick to win, whether you liked my type or not) and I was fast. I could place a class of 30 lambs quickly and accurately. Which meant I could get through a show with 300-400 head without it taking forever. I always advised new judges to work quickly so the crowd didn’t have time to pick different favorites than what they had picked.

A couple of things we can do to hone these skills when being asked questions is to listen for trigger words. Trigger words will prompt you to be thinking about the most important parts of the question or point being made. It shows the listener that you heard their question or concern loud and clear and are addressing in directly and head on.

Another thing that I have to continually work on is giving the short answer first. In other words, get to the point and don’t ramble on. Give the quick answer first and let the other party ask clarifying or follow up questions.

In the end it really comes down to being authentic. We need to answer to the best of our ability and from the heart. Say what we really think.

Weakest Moments

Posted in Alter Bridge, Attitude, Community, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 7, 2019

I was finishing the day yesterday watching a news program and one of the persons being interviewed answered a question by saying, “I never judge a person by their weakest moment.” The comment caused me to think about how often we do this. It also caused me to pause and think about when I had done this, and who had maybe done this to me. Or better yet, those who had not done this to me. Think about it: we all have weak moments when we are not at our best.

It also made me reflect on a phrase in the great Alter Bridge song, Before Tomorrow Comes, “Will I be defined by things that could have been?” I’m not one that spends much time looking in the rear view mirror, so to speak, but with all the forks in the road and paths less travelled we come to, you can’t help but reflect at times.

My point here, however, is we need to not judge people on what could have been or, more importantly, at their weakest moments. It is shortsighted and foolish to judge people based solely on the worst or weakest moments in their lives. Would you want someone to base their opinion of you solely on your mistakes? My answer is no, and I am guessing that is your answer as well.

So, instead of judging others at their weakest moments, let’s as Myles Kennedy sings in Before Tomorrow Comes, “Take the hand in need; Before tomorrow comes; you could change everything.” Let’s grab those hands in need.

Is Your “Want To” Big Enough?

This morning I flipped through the television channel to see what was going on in the world and stopped on a channel with one of my favorite preachers, Joel Olsteen. When I tuned in he was asking the question, “How big is your ‘want to’?” I love this question. Many times our “want to” must get to a certain size for us to make a change or go after a desire.

This went right along with a discussion we had this past week in our 3D Leadership Program about the statement in Nothing More’s song Do You Really Want It?, “Everyone wants to change the world, but one thing is clear, no one wants to change themselves.” How big your “want to” is goes right along with this.

Your “want to” is how bad do you want to accomplish something. It is your “want to” that will be your driving force behind how far you go and how much success you will have with it. Many people like to talk big games, but “talk” and your “want to” are two different things. You have to really want something in life in order to accomplish it, especially if it is a big goal or aspiration. As with all big goals and aspirations there will usually be a lot of obstacles and roadblocks that will pop up along the way.

Other people call it your “purpose”. Some call it your “why”. Your “want to” is what it really is. How bad you want it, or answering the question Nothing More asks, “Do you really want it?” is what it really comes down to. Your “want to” will determine how far you will go to ensure success. The bigness of your “want to” must rise to match the power hidden in the thing you want.

Bottom-line: until your “want to” gets big enough, we will never make the changes, or do the necessary preparation, or other things needed to do the desired action. To achieve great things to change the world, you need a big “want to”. Your big “want to” should inspire and drive you to take the necessary action to achieve it.

Infectious Leadership

In the past week I have been with four groups of school and teacher leaders from three different states doing leadership development facilitation as part of our 3D Leadership Program. As part of this months focus we did a good leader/bad leader activity where each group developed a top 5 good leader trait and top 5 bad leader trait list. Two things that did not hit the lists were charisma and celebrity. It is clear that all want present and technically competent leaders who have a growth mindset and are contagious. This then trickles down to the team.

So what does having a growth mindset mean? To me it means having a transformative and innovative approach with the team. It means letting the team be curious and creative; finding ways to get better. Great leaders let go of certainty and open the door to other points of view. Great leaders also trust their team members and give them more latitude. These same leaders provide appreciation for all new ideas and achievements of employees. They are comfortable trying new things knowing that all will not work. It’s about being curious themselves.

To set the stage and paint the picture for modeling this growth mindset the leader needs to talk in ideals; ideal work, ideal team, ideal outcome. The question I always like to answer as an innovative and curious leader with a growth mindset is: “what does success look like?” One thing is clear from listening to all these leaders: we need to be present, communicate (including effective listening), and have a mindset for growth. Are you infectious?

Manufactured Culture

Tonight in our Central Florida gathering of 3D Leadership in Orlando, Florida we got into a discussion about “manufactured cultures” vs. “organic cultures”. Clearly, just like with food, organic wins out as best. We always talk about how great it is for things to happen organically, but I had really never thought a lot about how detrimental it was for leadership to try and manufacture culture.

Most team members truly try to be honest and try to make the environment a better place. Leadership, conversely, that is inexperienced or questionable results in bad decisions. These leaders then try to manufacture a culture that is contrary to that of the larger organizational community. This leadership lacks tactical and long term strategic vision. Ultimately, this results in a disconnect of culture/morale. Check out this list of top five good leader traits that would lead to an organic culture and top five bad leader traits developed by the participants tonight that would contribute to a manufactured culture:

In order to develop a community with an organic culture, leaders need to understand their own limitations and areas for growth and fix them. Additionally, great organizational communities identify the difference between finger pointing and leading. We must also listen to our long term team members, whose insight has been proven over and over.

Great organizational communities with organic cultures listen to their teams and fix issues right away. There is also always honesty about what is going on in the organization. Additionally, organizations sometimes become very cult like which results in a manufactured culture.

How about you? Are you leading in a way that lets your organizational culture develop organically, or are you manufacturing it?