Byron's Babbles

Leading With Intellectual Honesty

I am reading a great book right now that is super hard to put down every time I get a chance to sit down and do some reading. The book is by one of my favorite Presidents, Harry S. Truman. Where The Buck Stops: The Personal and Private Writings Of Harry S. Truman. This great book was published by President Truman’s daughter, Mary Margaret Truman Daniel. Although the book is entirely written by President Truman, with the exception of the introduction, he did not want it published till after he and the former First Lady, Bess Truman, had both passed away. The reason was that he is very critical of some of the presidents before and after him and did not want his thoughts released while he was alive. In the book, our 33rd U.S. President gave his “cut to the chase” theories and opinions on leadership and what it takes to be a great leader. He even gave his picks for best and worst presidents and, in detail, defended his reasoning.

It would seem that my post today is to promote the book, but really that is not the case. Although, I would recommend reading the book. I was intrigued by a comment President Truman made in the book when arguing that the appearance, height, or stature of President has nothing to do with greatness. President Truman said:

“A president has got to have qualifications to do the job that he’s supposed to do. He has got to be honest. Particularly, he’s got to be intellectually honest, and if he isn’t, it doesn’t make any difference what kind of appearance he makes. In the long run, his good looks or good public presence doesn’t amount to anything because he’ll do a bad job, and he’ll be found out. Or even worse, as I’ve been pointing out in this book, some presidents go into the presidency and don’t do any kind of job at all.” ~ Harry S. Truman in Where The Buck Stops (Kindle Location 1369 of 6958)

I bolded the term that intrigued me: “intellectually honest” or intellectual honesty. What is intellectual honesty? It means always seeking the truth regardless of whether or not it agrees with your own personal beliefs. President Truman was reminding us that the great leaders approach problems and decision-making as rationally as possible. In other words we make arguments we believe are true as opposed to arguments we are supposed to by popular opinion or public pressure. We should not be afraid to show vulnerability or admit when we are wrong or don’t not know something. Probably a President, more than anyone else, can appreciate that facts and information may likely change, requiring a shift in execution.

The best leaders I have observed have the curiosity to learn and improve — and an innate desire to create, innovate, iterate, and discover better and more efficient ways of doing things. When great leaders see change as an opportunity for growth they are able to pivot and execute effectively. We must work really hard to not cover up what we don’t know, or let personal beliefs interfere with our pursuit of the truth. As President Truman pointed out, this is not easy. We must continually work at it.

Advertisements

Leading Through The Lens Of Opportunity

This past week I had a leader I am working with on a project say to me, “I am having trouble looking at this project through three different lenses.” My immediate response was don’t look through three lenses; just the one you were made a part of this project for. There are others on this committee that can work through the other lenses. It really got me thinking about whether we, as leaders, should look at things through multiple lenses or only one. 

The most effective leaders I know approach problems through the single lens of opportunity. I had an incredible mentor and friend early in my career that always called problems “opportunities.” That has stuck with me ever since. The best leaders are the best problem solvers. They have the patience to step back and see the problem at-hand through broadened observation; circular vision. These great leaders see around, beneath, and beyond the issue/problem (opportunity) itself. They see well-beyond the obvious and see opportunities. 

I also believe it becomes crucial to become a convener and let the wisdom of the crowd/community take over. This creates an environment where everyone’s concerns, points of view, ideas, and solutions are freely expressed. This community structure welcomes efficient cross-functional collaboration and problem solving. This also eliminates silos and allows individuals lead through the lens of their expertise. 

Great leaders seek out and convene lifters and high-potential leaders within the organization or community to reap the benefits of open-mindedness that leads to more innovation and initiative. We should invite people together and name the possibility about which we are convening. I also believe we must specify what is required of each and what lens they should look through should they choose to be a part of the opportunity.

Reflections Of A Leader

IMG_3011In my most recent post, The Leadership Symphony, I mentioned that I had just finished the great book 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart. This book was truly 52 lessons that made me think about my own leadership and how to practice continuous improvement and honing of those skills. This is a book that prompted reflection and thought on my own leadership style and that style’s impact on those I lead.

Additionally, many of the lesson prompted ideas for blog posts. Here is a link that will take you to a run of all of them: https://byronernest.blog/?s=john+parker+stewart. All the lessons were easily adaptable to the real life leadership situations I was and am experiencing. As a guy who believes everyone is a leader, I love the Lead Now!™ model that is used to guide this book. As leaders we have a responsibility to create purpose and deliver excellence. Furthermore, if we intend to have those we serve leading from where they are we must continually develop others, as well as ourselves. Finally we must lead change.

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 12.53.02 PM

img_2431The four quadrants were developed using data from 360° leadership feedback, so it is no wonder that the lesson caused a great deal of reflection and self inflection. The stories in this book and the thoughts provoked enable the leader not to observe leadership, but to hone and develop leadership skills. These lessons increased my awareness of how I am perceived, and how I can make adjustments. As leaders we have scores of experiences from which to draw learned knowledge. I believe it is important to develop a habit of stopping the action occasionally to reflect and write about what happened, what worked, what didn’t, and what am I learning – thus my blog. I believe we have, literally, thousands of learning experiences. Without some type of guided reflection we lose thousands of learning opportunities. What are you doing to guide your reflection and continuous leadership improvement?

 

The Leadership Symphony

IMG_1279Well, I have come to the end of another book. Actually this is the completion of my 84th book this year. My goal is 87. It has actually taken me a year to complete this book as it is divided in 52 distinct lessons. I have tweeted about many of them. I will do a post about the book as a whole and include the posts, but for now want to post thoughts on the 52nd lesson. In lesson #52 entitled “What Makes A Symphony” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart he tells us how the conductor brings individual musicians together to form the playing of the symphony.

“A symphony consists of polished performances from many sections that become a unified whole. If not played together it is merely a cacophony of disconnected sounds.” ~ John Parker Stewart

This chapter really resonated with me as a believe in shared, intent-based, leadership. Everyone is a leader and has a part. But, there still must be a leader who is conveying the shared vision and making sure the musicians, in the case of a symphony, have the necessary professional development to do their part.

IMG_1273This point was driven home this morning in the last general session of the annual conference of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). The keynote was delivered by Dr. Pedro Noguera. He is the Distinguished Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. His research focuses on the way in which schools are influenced by social and economic conditions, as well as by demographic trends in local, regional, and global contexts. In his keynote, Dr. Noguera gave five strategies for successful school leadership:

  1. Shared leadership
  2. Concerted effort to obtain buy-in around the strategy
  3. A coherent strategy focused on student needs
  4. Differentiated professional development
  5. Follow through, examining the evidence, sticking with it

“Only a clearly communicated perspective, directed by a wise and capable leader, results in a magnificent performance. ~ John Parker Stewart

The big takeaways for me and relations to this 52nd lesson were the idea of shared IMG_1277leadership, coherent strategy, and differentiation. As I said earlier, every person in an organization is a leader. As in a symphony, every person has an important part no matter their job or instrument. Additionally, in a symphony everyone needs to be playing from the same musical score, or strategic plan. And, finally, since everyone one plays different instruments or has different jobs or is playing/working at a different level of proficiency, the development must be differentiated.

img_2431The bottom line is that shared leadership an drive change. If, as a leader, we are the conductor, we must bring everyone together sharing the leadership of a coherent strategy. We know, for example, in schools we must invest in teacher leadership by developing leadership pipelines. This involves cultivating structures, processes, and mindsets for shared leadership. We must also prioritize and enhance instructional leadership skills. What are the priorities of your industry or organization?

Leading With Style

IMG_1263In lesson #51 entitled “Fantastic Or Flop” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart the story of 1968 Olympic record breaking gold medalist in the high jump, Dick Fosbury was told. The moral of the story was not the gold medal or breaking of a record; it was his unorthodox style. Everyone (including his coaches) wanted him to change his style. He would not because he knew his style was right and fit him. Now, his “Fosbury Flop” is the most accepted style for the high jump still today.

“Your style is your own. Don’t worry if it’s not traditional, if it is right for you.” ~ John Parker Stewart

This story really resonated with me as a guy who has a little different leadership style. Let’s face it, not everyone is ready to accept full on intent-based leadership or convening large numbers of stakeholders. But, as John Parker Stewart says:

“You’re style is your own. Don’t worry if it’s not traditional, if it is right for you. We must know ourselves and be true to ourselves.” ~ John Parker Stewart

img_2431We must then use our talents, skills, and values to continually improve and hone our style of leadership. Sometimes we just need to take a moment to evaluate the way we lead, so we can define ways to improve or adapt to our organization’s changing needs. So much of what effective leaders do is nurture others. Wise leaders cultivate their staff members’ leadership skills, both to ensure support in carrying out and sustaining change and to establish a network of rising leaders to fill future positions. So, no matter what our style we need to make sure we are developing others. For me, the inclusion of others is such an important part of leading. Effective leaders know where they need to go, but they also know that they must invite others to assist in the journey. That journey is where we need to let our style shine through.

 

Feeling Your Leadership “Vibe”

IMG_1215

Sophie and I w/the Pear Tart

I had the honor and incredible pleasure of going out to eat this evening with my fellow National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) board of directors. We went to Seven Lamps in Atlanta, Georgia. Seven Lamps has an awesome selection of craft food and drinks. The restaurant’s unique name comes from a book length essay, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, by English art critic John Ruskin. The “lamps” refer to the seven principles of architecture: sacrifice, truth, power, beauty, life, memory and obedience. That essay alone will turn into a complete other study for me.

 

Those who know me know that I love it when our server enjoys and wants to pick the meal. Well, let me tell you, Sophie was just that kind of server. When I pushed the menu away, and asked Sophie if she would just do the picking her whole face lit up and I knew we were in for a treat. She said, “Byron (she had already figured out my name and was using it), I am feeling your ‘vibe’.” Lobster roll and shrimp for appetizer, Salmon for the main course, and pear tart for dessert. Yep, she was feeling my “vibe”! It was awesome!

IMG_1206Now, the food was incredible and Chef Drew Van Leuvan is stellar, but bottom line is it was Sophie who made the evening complete with her ability to feel the “vibe”. I know I have blogged about this before, but I believe how a server handles doing what Sophie did tonight – picking everyone’s meals for them – is a sign of great technical skill and leadership. She clearly knew every dish, drink, appetizer, dessert, and whatever else on the menu inside and out. She had clearly tried everything and knew the intimate taste, cooking method, and ingredients of each. Clearly, Seven Lamps creates an environment where the team members get the technical knowledge to truly server their customers. This was the first key to Sophie’s success.

IMG_1207Then, Sophie exhibited great leadership by accepting the responsibility and risk, with enthusiasm I might add, of picking our meals for us. It is amazing to me how many times I have done this and I have never had a choice made for me that I did not like. Sophie explained how each dish was prepared and even brought others in different roles in the restaurant over for us to meet. I’ve heard it said, “If you want to flourish, choose how you show up.” Sophie showed up tonight to flourish, and I can guarantee you she shows up every night to flourish.

Our inner thoughts and attitudes radiate through facial expressions, body language, tone, and language.This would be our “vibe”. Sophie was giving off the “vibe” that told me that she believed these things about herself:

  1. I showed up to serve
  2. I am glad to be here
  3. I am having fun
  4. I am competent and knowledgeable
  5. I am making a difference
  6. I do a good job

She was giving off a pretty good “vibe”, don’t you think? What “vibe” do you give off to those you lead?

IMG_1211I did have to ask Sophie what “vibes” I was giving off. She explained that she was picking up that I was curious, adventuresome, and ready to try and learn about something new. Guilty! She could not have gotten my “vibe” any more correct. And…what better place to practice being curious, adventuresome, and ready to try and learn something new than in a restaurant you’ve never been to in a city 567 miles from home? The key is to align our behaviors with the “vibe” we want to send.

IMG_1208Tonight at Seven Lamps I learned from Sophie that understanding our own “vibe” and the “vibe” of those we serve allows us to be greater, more effective leaders. We need to keep learning more about ourselves and others. We need to keep trying new things. Finally, we need to keep honing and combining our passions with our skills – this will empower and maximize our potential.

 

No Expiration Date On Success

2-7We hear or say the phrase, “It’s never too late” all the time, but do we really mean it? Or, do we just say it? Additionally, we talk about being life-long learners, but would we really still mean it as age 65? In Lesson #50 entitled “65 Years Young” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart tells the story of Harland Sanders. We know him best as Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

“I’m still learning.” ~ Michelangelo at age 87

Let’s get to know the man behind the phrase “Finger Lickin’ Good” a little better. Colonel Harland Sanders was born on a farm outside the town of Henryville right here in my own great state of Indiana on September 9, 1890. The Colonel first prepared meals for truck drivers at an old family dining room table wheeled into the front of his Corbin, Kentucky, service station in 1930, fried chicken was not on the menu. After Duncan Hines put his restaurant that Sanders later open across the street from the service station, in his 1935 road-food guide, the colonel began to perfect his fried chicken secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices. This was in 1939 – he was age 49.

Then, in 1952 Pete Harman, who was a friend of Colonel Sanders who operated one of the largest restaurants in Salt Lake City, Utah, became the colonel’s first franchisee. Harman came up with the “Kentucky Fried Chicken” moniker and pioneered the restaurant’s famous bucket container. It wasn’t until Sanders was age 65 that he incorporated Kentucky Fried Chicken and began signing up new franchisees. He used is  $105-a-month Social Security check to begin his franchise businesses. In 1964 at the age of 74 he sold Kentucky Fried Chicken and in 1968 at the age of 78 started another restaurant in Shelbyville, Kentucky. Wow, it really isn’t ever too late.

“There is no expiration date on our ability to succeed.” ~John Parker Stewart

Remember this: however old you are, there is an abundance of wonderful things waiting to happen for you. If you have the right attitude, you will not let them pass. Go out there and keep learning and succeeding!

Flaw-Tolerant Leadership

This morning while feeding in one of our pastures I came across the most beautiful spider web. There was a dew on, which accentuated the detail and geometry of the web. It was so cool I took a picture and have included it in this post. I tweeted that the spider web either had a geometry or leadership lesson in it. Here is the leadership lesson. 

In researching spider webs just now I came across the research of Markus Buehler, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) at MIT. Buehler has analyzed the complex, hierarchical structure of spider silk and its amazing strength. His research shows that on a pound-for-pound basis, it’s stronger than steel. 

Working with CEE graduate students Steven Cranford and Anna Tarakanova, and Nicola Pugno of the Politecnico di Torino in Italy Buehler found that a key component of spider silk that helps make webs robust is something previously considered a weakness: the way it can stretch and soften at first when pulled, and then stiffen again as the force of the pulling increases.
Additionally, these researchers found that spider webs typically only fail or get damaged in small areas. This makes it easy for the spiders to make repairs. If you’ve ever looked closely at a spider web, it still functions even with damage. This what Buehler described in this way: “It’s a very flaw-tolerant system.”

This made me think about leading in a flaw-tolerant way and creating a flaw-tolerant organization. We talk about encouraging taking risks and encouraging failing quickly, but have we made our organizations flaw-tolerant? We need to make sure we are set up like the spider web to have localized failure/damage without it being catastrophic. 

We are beginning to accept the value of failure in the abstract. In other words we have learned, at least that corporate policies, processes, and practices. Conversely, it’s an entirely different matter at the personal level. Everyone hates to fail.

In order to create a flaw-tolerant system, more effective and interdependent upon the decisions made by each departmental leader. We need to be like the spider web and weave our teams together so we can sustain failure or small damage and be able to quickly make local repairs without missing a beat.

Is your organization flaw-tolerant?

Neuroscience Savvy Leadership Practices

This guest post is an excerpt from The New Leadership Literacies (Johansen, 2017).

Neuroscience Savvy Leadership PracticesBy Bob Johansen

David Rock is the founder the Neuroleaderhip Institute in New York, the first research group that is integrating neuroscience and leadership principles. They are studying things like job performance.

They argue that many of the classic performance review systems trigger fight or flight mechanism in our brain and have exactly opposite effect from what we like to have. They draw upon neuroscience research and bridge to what they research means in a work environment.

David Rock’s book Your Brain at Work is a practical handbook for applying neuroscience lessons to specific daily work activities. Using detailed scenarios from days in the life of a young working couple, he makes the research practical. For example:

“I noticed a surprising pattern while putting this book together. I saw that there are five domains of social experience that your brain treats the same as survival issues. These domains form a model, which I call the SCARF model, which stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness. The model describes the interpersonal primary rewards or threats that are important to the brain.”

The SCARF model suggests that, in order to be balanced and productive, our brains need to feel a sense of status, some certainty that provides grounding, autonomy to for self strength, balanced with a sense of relatedness to others, and finally a sense of fairness in the system. Without these brain balance basics, we feel sapped of energy.

*****************************************

About Bob Johansen:

Bob Johansen is a distinguished fellow with the Institute for the Future in Silicon Valley. For more than 30 years, Bob has helped organizations around the world prepare for and shape the future, including corporations such as P&G, Walmart, McKinsey, United Rentals, and Syngenta, as well as major universities and nonprofits.
The author or co-author of ten books, Bob is a frequent keynote speaker. His best-selling book Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present was selected as one of the top business books of 2007. His latest book is The New Leadership Literacies: Thriving in a Future of Extreme Disruption and Distributed Everything discusses five new leadership literacies—combinations of disciplines, practices, and worldviews—that will be needed to thrive in a VUCA world of increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. 

 
 

Wildly Adaptive

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 12.41.40 PMToday, during our first Harvard University Learning Innovation Lab (LILA) session of the year we discussed many of the commonalities of what is going on in the worlds of all the members of our consortium of leading researchers and practitioners in the field of organizational learning and change. Our theme for the year is “Emergence in Organizations.” During our discussion the phrase “wildly adaptive” really resonated with me. I have always been a person who believes in and strives to practice adaptive leadership, but the thought of being wildly adaptive struck a chord.

We need to remember that we do not have to be, or need to hold ourselves, or those organizations or individuals we lead to a certain niche or existing reality. As humans, we are designed with the ability to think through situations and conclude that the current reality is not sufficient. It is easy to be complacent and stay in a state if status quo for a long period of time. We need, however, to pay attention to the contexts and environments in which we lead for changes that should be triggering us to adapt or lead a wildly adaptive change. FullSizeRender 4

To master adaptive change we must help people to learn new ways, change behavior, achieve new understandings, and see the world through new filters. We and those we lead must do all of these things in a collective and collaborative way. This topic has caused me to reflect on a meeting on Graduation Pathways I chaired this week where the comment was made, “The pathways already exist we just need to find a way to make them work in a new graduation pathways structure.” This reminded me that we must not always look to make wholesale or technical changes but must also be adaptive.

Let’s remember to practice adaptive leadership with our initiatives as they are happening to understand how today’s turns in the road will affect tomorrow’s plans.