Byron's Babbles

Curating The Eight

I really hope everyone enjoys my Top 8 List of Non-Fiction Books for 2021. This was really tough because in a year where I read 120 books, grew a lot from that reading, and the fact that all the really great authors deserve credit for providing me much needed growth. I also know it took me about two weeks longer to get this post done compared to past years, but even after I began to narrow it down, I was torn. I’m glad I took the time to go through the exercise because it provided some great personal development time for reviewing and reflecting on all I learned from reading this past year. Then it came down to a stack of books that really offered the right things at the right time for me – I love it when that happens! There were eight books in that stack, so thus, a Top 8. As I write this introduction I am still trying to put the list in order and still really struggling. Really, to me, the order is not important (put them in whatever order you want), but everyone always blow me crap when I don’t put them in order.

Here they are – my top 8 books from 2021 curated for you:

#1. Stronger Through Adversity: World-Class Leaders Share Pandemic-Tested Lessons On Thriving During The Toughest Challenges by Joseph Michelli I’ve read every one of Dr. Michelli’s books, but please don’t ask me to put all of them in ranked order. I was a fan and hooked (pun intended) forever after first reading When Fish Fly. Then in 2021 out comes Stronger Through Adversity which topped all my non-fiction reads for the year and was definitely at the right place at the right time. As many organizations were trying to figure out how to lead in a crisis, here was an incredible resource where the best had been curated for us. This book also helped me get my mind wrapped around creating sessions/programs for developing leaders for crisis management/leadership. I blogged a bunch this year from inspiration gained from this book (search Stronger Through Adversity and you’ll find them all). Dr. Michelli is the absolute best and being able to access the great leaders and then share out the learning so we all can benefit.

#2. Alien Thinking: The Unconventional Path To Breakthrough Ideas, by Cyril Bouquet, Jean-Louis Barsoux, and Michael Wade As the guy who always comes up with ideas that cause everyone to look at me like I am an alien, I loved this book. This book really helped me to begin to better channel the alien that is in me. Instead of trying to curb alien thinking I learned to better make use of it. I loved the framework they brought forth in the book:

  • A – Attention – look with fresh eyes to observe problems that need to be solved, opportunities worth addressing, and solutions that can be dramatically improved or revised
  • L – Levitation – step back from the creative process to gain perspective and enrich your understanding
  • I – Imagination – recognize hard-to-see patterns and to connect seemingly disparate dots to imagine unorthodox combinations
  • E – Experimentation – test ideas quickly and smartly, with the goal of improving – not just proving – your idea
  • N – Navigation – deal with potentially hostile environments and adjust to the forces that can make or break your solution

#3. Love ‘Em Or Lose ‘Em (Sixth Edition) by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans This book profoundly changed me and helped get my mind wrapped around being people-centric and becoming more human. I was very fortunate to be on the launch team for this sixth edition. I am very critical of those individuals and organizations that are not as I call them “people centered.” I love (pun intended) that Kaye and Jordan-Evans taught us that loving those we work with is the correct terminology. This book taught that we need to think about how our people want to work and what inspires and motivates us to do the work. The pandemic has exposed the issue that already existed that everyone’s work situation is a little different and we need to find ways to make sure we are personalizing that experience for each and every one of our people. What really resonated with me was the notion that if we really want to love ’em (those we serve) then mass customization of how we deal with those we serve does not work. As Kaye and Jordan-Evans argued, there is no one policy for the workforce anymore. We need to allow for everyone to be a part of determining what is fair and right for them. As a leader in education, I believe this principle is true for the scholars and families we serve. This book really is about how to love.

One of my favorite quotes from the book says it all: “Approach things not as an expert, but as an explorer.” I love the metaphor of us looking at the world as an alien would see it – without preconceived notions or bias. There are so many things that can stifle even the most alien of thinkers. We are taught that both our strengths and our weaknesses can serve as deterrents to successful creativity and innovation. This book caused a great deal of introspection and reflection.

#4. Make It, Don’t Fake It: Leading With Authenticity For Real Business Success by Sabrina Horn I cringe when I hear someone say, “Fake it till you make it.” I am always said that is the stupidest thing you can do. And, I’ll even have people argue with me. Imagine my relief and delight when Sabrina came out with this book that taught us all why “faking it” really is the stupidest thing you can do. In fact in light of the latest verdicts in the Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos case we have even more proof that “faking it” does not work. Great leaders know what they don’t know and understand there are things they don’t know they don’t know. And, sometimes we even know things we don’t know we know. But, learning from and with others, asking questions, and asking for help are hallmarks of an effective and humble leader. Sabrina also taught us that “Intuition is knowledge, and knowledge is intuition.” I am so glad I had the opportunity to read this book, be on the launch team, and learn from the great leader, Sabrina Horn.

#5. Subtract: The Untapped Science Of Less by Leidy Klotz I loved this book! In education we are always talking about how things keep getting added to our plates and nothing ever gets removed. Well, it turns out this happens to everyone and it is how our brains are wired. Who knew? Leidy Klotz! If nothing else this book has caused me to have a new sniff test when wanting to improve, change, or create something – what should be/could be subtracted? Klotz told us that “In our striving to improve our lives, our work, and our society, we overwhelmingly add.” He asked a bunch of questions that I had to answer “yes” to, but he had me dead to rights with these three:

  • “Do you spend more time acquiring information – whether through podcasts, websites, or conversation – than you spend distilling what you already know?
  • “Do you spend more time writing new content than editing what’s there?
  • “Have you started more organizations, initiatives, and activities than you have phased out?

Using research we are shown how being poor and worrying about money takes away our brainpower to devote to other areas of our lives. As an education leader this was very powerful. Also, as I promote reducing the number of standards being taught to a more manageable number of essential skills actually raises the bar for student learning, am reminded of something else Klotz said in the book, “Weeding less useful ideas allows the indispensable ones to flourish.” Bottom-line, I no longer think in terms of adding OR subtracting, I think add AND subtract.

#6. Leadership Unchained: Defy Conventional Wisdom For Breakthrough Performance by Sara Canaday This book is really special. I had the chance to meet Sara year before last. She is such a unique and gifted leader. It is immediately evident when meeting her and reading her work that she “walks the talk.” I was reminded when reading Leadership Unchained that defying conventionality requires allowing for creativity, flexibility, and risk taking. She made a comment saying, “Innovation happens at the intersection of different perspectives.” This made me reflect on one of my own core values of learning forward from different perspectives. Innovative ideas are not just about adding another feature or an
adjacent market. If we want to keep breaking new ground we must make it a priority to seek out the intersection of multiple fields, disciplines, and cultures. She argued we should create our organizations, teams, and mind by seeking out these intersections of multiple fields, disciplines, and cultures. All those different perspectives are far more potent than any incremental extension of what you are already working on using a single perspective. This kind of thinking will lead us to someplace completely different.

#7. The Long Distance Teammate: Stay Engaged and Connected While Working Anywhere by Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel My good friend Kevin Eikenberry has this amazing sixth sense for being in the right place at the right time to provide valuable help. This book was released a year ago while we were still in the height of pandemic and beginning to figure out how to figure out how to work and learn from anywhere. This book has so much value for all disciplines. In fact, Kevin did a webinar on the book and content for me for a group of teachers I work with. This is one of those books that I’m glad I read in electronic form because I continually go back to my highlights, search for things I remember reading. This book will be evergreen for a long time as we continue to figure out how to work effectively from anywhere.

#8. Mindset Mondays with DTK: 52 Ways to REWIRE Your Thinking and Transform Your Life by David Taylor-Klaus (DTK) This was another book in this group of top eight that I was on the launch team for. Also, every year I try to find a book that is written in the 52 weekly lesson format. So, I read this book one lesson a week for a year and did a blog post each week (without fail, I might add). It was incredible, and each week I was forced to reflect, study, and expand my thinking. In this book, DTK asks you the right questions to make you take a deep and introspective look at who you want to be and who you do not want to be.

1000 Blog Posts Later

I had a great friend and mentor early in my now nearly six decades who would say, “Now I’m just talking out loud here.” I always knew it was coming, but I always thought or said, “That’s the only way you can talk, or your not talking.” Of course, he was being funny and really saying that he was thinking out loud, but I think of him and that phrase often. As I write this 1000th post to my blog I contemplate the reality that blogging is really writing out loud. Blogging feels like what I would imagine extreme sports to be: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, and more alive.

When I first started blogging I was much more formal and tried to think of things to blog that someone might want to read. That really wasn’t very satisfying. Now my posts are based on some inspiration or something that has caused me to dig in deeper on some subject. I am approaching this more like a songwriter approaches songs. I now let the inspiration happen organically – it might be something said in a television show, lines in a novel, book topics, something someone says during a meeting or one of my workshops, or something as mundane as a spider web in the barn. It has become so much fun!

Extreme sports have several associated uncontrollable and dynamic variables, because extreme sports take place where the natural phenomena are and generally vary, like wind, snow, and mountains. These natural phenomena affect the outcome or the result of the activity or the extreme sporting event for that matter. Sound familiar? Life!

I end up writing about myself, because I am a relatively fixed point in the constant interaction with the ideas and facts of the exterior world. And in that sense, the historic form closest to blogs is the diary. But, a diary is usually kept private. Its raw honesty, its dedication to marking life as it happens and remembering life as it was, makes it a terrestrial log. Sometimes there are diaries that are meant to be read by others, of course, just as correspondence could be. I’m thinking here of the captain’s log on Star Trek, a trucker’s log book, or a flight log. But, usually diaries are read posthumously, or as a way to compile facts for a more considered autobiographical rendering. But a blog, unlike a diary, is instantly public. It transforms this most personal and retrospective of forms into a painfully public and immediate one. It combines the confessional genre with the log form and exposes the author to anyone and everyone in the touch of a “Publish Now” icon.

I just see myself as a curious individual, who likes to share what he has learned. I want to share the life lessons I’ve learned so far and learn every day. And, I want to share what I’m currently working on, what I’m currently thinking; mostly imperfect things in-progress. Blogging has enabled me to Share my thoughts and lessons learned.

I blog usually three to four times per week and I believe blogging is helpful and beneficial to share my thoughts, and lessons learned online because someone might find the lessons learned useful. These “someone’s” are many times those I lead or have the opportunity to help and serve. Therefore, it provides a constant window into the things I am doing, what I’m thinking about, things I’m curious about, new and evolving thinking, and who I am. Even if it doesn’t do that for everyone, it still serves as my journal. I go back and pull things from the archives many times per week. It is an electronic filing cabinet of my brain that is very well organized. This in a brain, I might add, that is not always well organized.

Finally, blogging is very personal for me. When I pull up a blank page to start a new post it’s like beginning a new adventure in learning. As I close, I must give credit where credit is due. Back in 2010 my good friend and great leadership guru, Kevin Eikenberry, The Kevin Eikenberry Group, suggested I needed to start blogging. Of course, I resisted. But, Jenny Pratt who was on Kevin’s team at the time and is now Director of Major and Planned Gifts for The Muny, took it upon herself to build my blog site even to the point of naming it Byron’s Babbles. Who does that? Jenny! She told me, “now you can change the name and the way I have formatted it for you later.” 1000 posts and 12 years later I have changed nothing. Byron’s Babbles is still the appropriate name today – it’s authentic and what my blog is: my organized babbles. I hope you have enjoyed my 1000th babble.

Don’t Overlook The Brilliance Of Our Students

I’m still getting caught up on my reflection of the lessons from Kevin Eikenberry’s Virtual LeaderCon last week. This post is about Chip Bell’s response to my question about where education and the students we serve fall into the realm of the work he has put together in his latest book, Inside Your Customer’s Imagination: 5 Secrets For Creating Breakthrough Products, Services, and Solutions. The first thing he said was, “We must treat students like customers, not consumers.” There is brilliance in our students that so many times gets overlooked.

I asked Chip to go into a little more detail about treating students like customers and not consumers. To this he stated that we have board meetings and where are the students (I’m excited that many states have put students on their state boards of education – I’m still working on Indiana)? But, local school boards should think about student members in some capacity, too. He also asked us to think about where the student was when we were having planning meetings. Chip explained that everything we do should “have our customer’s fingerprints all over it.” He used the example of when we coach little league baseball we tell the kids to “be the ball.” We need to be telling our students to “be the customer.” And, then letting them be the customer. Chip believes our students should be partners along with our students’ families. He promotes student-staff partnership initiatives.

Chip Bell reminds us that customers can give us our best next idea. We should be asking the question, “What is something no-one else has ever thought of?” This discussion reminded me that the words “customer” and “consumers” are often interchangeably used and are easily confused with one another. While students are consumers and the ultimate user of the product, we need to treat them like customers – the person buying the product. We need to think of our students as a final customer– these are the customers who buy the product for their own need or desire. This kind of thinking will help us to better individualize education for every student.

We must innovate. Listening to our students will help us to do this. We can’t keep offering the same thing over and over and over again. We owe it to our students to be authentic. As Chip told us during Virtual LeaderCon, “Authenticity wins every time.”

Don’t Get Naked At 8:00 AM

Bob Tiede on Virtual LeaderCon

I’ll bet I got your attention with the title of this post. I’ll even bet you might be reading now just to find out what the heck I’m writing about. Well keep reading and you’ll find out. Bob Tiede is one a kind! And, I mean that as the highest of compliments. We had the chance to learn from Bob on Kevin Eikenberry’s Virtual LeaderCon on Wednesday. I have been a big time fan of Bob’s for a long time and I had chance for some personal messaging with him at the end of the day on Wednesday. PRICELESS! Bob Tiede has been helping leaders be their best for a lot of years and I have learned and grown a lot from following his work and reading his books.

His latest work is Now That’s A Great Question. Why am I such a fan? Well, if you know me, you know I love to ask questions. Bob taught us that, “Leadership is not as much about knowing the right answers as it is about asking the right questions.” Brilliant, right? See, there I go asking a question.

“Leadership is not as much about knowing the right answers as it is about asking the right questions.” ~ Bob Tiede

Two Powerful Sets of Questions

During Virtual LeaderCon he reminded us that some of the best questions are the simplest. For example, here are three simple questions leaders can ask:

  1. What do you like best?
  2. What do you like least?
  3. What would you change?

After asking those three questions, Bob will tell you the most important thing to do is – LISTEN! Listening is the most important part. We must be listening to both understand and interpret. Then, we also must do something about what we have been told. Otherwise everyone will lose trust in us.

Here are four more great questions from Bob:

  1. What’s going well?
  2. What’s not going well?
  3. Where are you stuck?
  4. What needs to change?

“…no leader wants to get naked at 8:00 AM!” ~ Bob Tiede

My notes from Bob’s Virtual LeaderCon Session

Don’t forget. What’s your job while asking these questions? LISTEN During Virtual LeaderCon Bob explained to always start with “what was liked best” and “what was going well.” Otherwise you are just starting with the potential for the conversation to become a “gripe-fest” and we have all been there before. Nothing productive ever comes out of a “gripe-fest.” Then Bob gave what I awarded as the best quote of the day on Wednesday: “Start with what’s going well, because no leader wants to get naked at 8:00 AM!” I loved it! His point was for us to start with the good things because that will put us in a much better frame of mind for truly listening to the things that need improvement. Isn’t he awesome at putting things in a way we can understand?

Bob, if you’re reading this, I’ll ask you a couple of questions (would love for you to leave a comment):

  1. What did I get right in this post?
  2. What would you like to add that I left out?

Gift Yourself Being Present For Your Own Personal Time

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Kevin Eikenberry, Leadership, Sara Canaday, Virtual LeaderCon by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 18, 2020

What a great week it has been. I have been working with schools, starting the fall gatherings of 3D Leadership, recording teacher webinars for the National FFA Organization for their virtual National FFA Convention and many other things. One of those many other things was having the opportunity to participate in and speak during the “Daily Debrief” of Kevin Eikenberry’s Virtual LeaderCon. What an incredible program and experience. It went on all five days this week with over 30 individuals with world-class expertise. I have an entire notepad filled with notes. I certainly will be using posts in this blog to process my learning. Additionally, I have already used things I learned from Virtual LeaderCon in the other work I have been doing this week.

There were so many great pieces of advice said that I wrote down, but on Wednesday, Sara Canaday, was great. I’ve know Sara for a while and she is the author of Leadership Unchained. At the end of her discussion with Kevin Eikenberry, he asked her one last question. He asked, “What’s the one piece of advice you want to give to the leaders here at Virtual LeaderCon?” Without hesitation, Sara answered, “Gift yourself with being present for your own personal time.” Huge! That his me like a ton of bricks. But…how to really do that, right?

“Gift yourself with being present for your own personal time.” ~ Sara Canaday

Well, we actually learned some things earlier in the conversation between Sara and Kevin that are useful in answering the question of “How?”. While Sara tells us we should calendar at least one hour, and really try for two, for personal time to marinate the happenings and learning from the week, the Virtual LeaderCon conversation taught us we probably are already doing some this. For example, my taking time to write this blog post represents taking time to marinate and process learning. Sara talked about how we always take the things people write way to literal. Its why we have trouble making changes in our lives, which as we learned from Rumi in the 13th Century when he said, “…Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” I’m sure you have experienced the person who when they finish a book becomes obsessed with everything in the book – quoting it constantly, trying to implement every single thing in the book, actually trying to shape-shift into the author, et cetera, et cetera. Really, it’s impossible to do that and frustrating to everyone around that person. We need to take what we read and learn and apply it where applicable and needed.

The point here, specifically, is to find the things that work specifically for you, and don’t forget the things you are already doing. For me, for example, my blog is very important and personal for me to marinate the happening and learning of my life.

Yesterday I tried to also put into practice Sara’s suggestion of the the one hour of marinating personal time by using something I already had to do – an hour drive to a school I am supporting. Usually I would be listening to a book or podcast, but yesterday morning I decided to just enjoy the morning – no sound at all. I left home in the dark and was headed east at exactly the correct angle to watch the sun come up (the sunrise in the photo featured in this post was of that very sunrise). I noticed so many things. I noticed the soybeans at different stages of maturity. Some were ready to be harvested (in fact I saw some being cut on my drive home); some were still a beautiful deep green; and many others were somewhere in-between. I also noticed the fresh cut sorghum-sudangrass on both sides of the road near a large dairy farm. I had noticed these sorghum-sudangrass fields on previous trips to this school and had noted this this farm was on the same cutting schedule as my own sorghum-sudangrass crop.

There were so many other things I saw. But, here’s the deal: My mind became so clear I was able to come up with a great new idea that I can’t wait to implement. Because I drive a lot, it will be very easy to gift myself a little more personal down time – a present to myself. Where can you gift yourself being present for your own personal time?