Byron's Babbles

Bringing Nuance To Our Language

L. David Marquet taught us that Leadership Is Language. He argued there is power in what we say as well as what we don’t say. Additionally, how we allow others to join the collaborative conversation matters. I’ve been continuing to learn about how language matters and how we are evolving and adapting while reading Because Internet: Understanding The New Rules Of Language by Gretchen McCullough. McCulloch pointed out, “While English students can generally just about understand the 400-year-old plays of Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, written 600 years ago, is almost indecipherable without university-level language courses. The foundations are there, but it’s an entirely new structure” (Because Internet Summary and Review). Proof that we can’t stop the language evolution.

When I was receiving my k-16 education, and into the first two decades of my professional career, the rules of language were handed down from figures of authority. These were my teachers, professors, peer review, and mentors. With the internet and especially social media sources, society (all of us) have been crafting a new language and forms of expression. This blog post is a perfect example. I can reach thousands of you without needing to make it past the scrutiny of an editor. Granted there are pluses and deltas to all this but I like people being able to speak more informally and organically.

I’m not sure I would qualify as a linguist, like McCulloch, but I do find it interesting how people communicate differently. For example, this past month, while facilitating Teacher Ambassador training for the National FFA Organization, we used the question of what one calls the apparatus pushed around a grocery store collecting the items for purchase – grocery cart or buggy? This becomes an interesting, sometimes heated, and comical discussion. Regardless of where we land on the topic, where we live or came from matters. What I found was that more from the south call it a buggy. Think about the “pop” versus “soda” versus “coke” question as another example.

It turns out we are also deeply influenced by groups we have weak ties with, like those on the web. Think about it, as McCullough points out, the internet is a bundle of weak ties, with social networks, live programming, forums, blogs, and chat rooms all facilitating contact with people outside your core networks. Twitter, my favorite, is a primary driver of linguistic change because it encourages you to follow people you don’t already know. And…I can reach out to, speak to, and listen to people I could never meet in person or “real life.”

Now we have “Lol,” invented by Wayne Pearson in a chatroom in the 1980s, originally indicating laughter. Now, “lol” had evolved, becoming part of our language to signify appreciation of a joke, to defuse an awkward situation or to indicate irony. Also emojis have become an indispensable part of our language. Our predominate communication by writing (texting) removes the body from language, many of our communicative tools are lost. Emoji helps us to fill this void. If you’re a person who talks with your hands and facial expressions, you love emojis. Emojis give us the power to flip someone off (🖕), wave (👋), wish luck (🤞) and roll our eyes (🙄). Emojis give us colorful and fun representations of our physical world. They bring nuance to our language, and a bit of flair to our messages.

Starbucks has capitalized on the term, sociologist Ray Oldenburg, coined in 1989, “third place.” Our “first place” is home and our “second place” is work. He argued we all needed a social place as our “third place.” Oldenburg believed these third places were crucial to our social and emotional well-being, civic engagement and the democratic process. Bars, lodges, coffee shops, clubs, circles, card groups, et cetera, all fill the bill. But, Oldenburg had no way of knowing that social media would become a third place to. Social media is shaping how we communicate and what language we use.

I wonder… will kids be able to understand our language 400 or 600 years from now?

The Goal Setting Paradox

I have always had an interesting relationship with goal setting. I’ve always had goals, but I’ve also always believed in living life and believing there were people and opportunities that show up at the right moments for me to choose how to use the effects of – kind of like a chemical reaction. Everly, a character in Patti Callahan Henry’s great historical novel, Surviving Savannah said it best, “Anyone who is engaged in life at all is brave.” Now don’t take this to say I am against goal setting. It’s just that I believe we must recognize the paradoxical effects that goal setting can have.

This reflection on goal setting was prompted by Chapter 43, “Raise The Bar” in Mindset Mondays with DTKby David Taylor-Klaus (DTK). He taught us that we are motivated by reasonable stretches. We need to go beyond the common endpoint to what he called the “visionary goal.” He told us “…there’s something extraordinary that happens when your marshaling your energy in the direction of a stretch goal.” I totally get that and have been blessed to experience that. But, this is also where the paradox begins.

In the great book by my good friend, David Marquet, Leadership Is Language, David reminded us that strict goals plus steep hierarchies can create an environment fertile for unethical behavior. He also reminded us that, “Strategies to achieve goals are often at odds with learning.” Now, I know this was in no way where DTK was going in Chapter 43, but the paradox is worth noting. I believe it needs to become the litmus test for goals. Individuals and organizations need to keep a close eye on whether goals are creating the desired effect of stretching us toward our greater purpose. I have witnessed ambition taking over purpose and there are well documented cases of this. In fact I’ve blogged a great deal about it. If you want to check out a couple, read Passion At Ambition’s Command and When Purpose & Passion Turn Into Ambition. To counteract this, DTK taught us to remember that failure along the way, if used for learning and course correcting, is a key contributor to the ultimate success of a goal.

So, thinking back to what Everly said in Surviving Savannah, if to be engaged in life is to be brave, let’s be brave and set the bar high, make sure we don’t let the goal get in the way of learning, and never let goals turn into purposeless ambition. Remember the litmus test for goal setting.

Collaborate Instead of Coercing

The face of a man, David Marquet, who believes we need to get rid of the old definition of leadership.

During my morning study time today I finished reading the great book Into The Raging Sea: Thirty Three Mariners, One Megastorm, And The Sinking of El Faro by Rachel Slade. Because of my belief that everyone is a leader, everyone needs to read this book. Slade did an amazing job of chronicling the October 1, 2015 loss of the 790 ft U.S. Flagged container ship El Faro in Hurricane Joaquin. The 33 on board all lost their lives and the loss sent shock-waves through the marine industry. I don’t want to spoil the inspiration of reading the book, but Slade explains in detail what happened plus a great many other details and history of the merchant marine industry. Her research included the many conversations on the bridge from the last 26 hours prior to the sinking of the El Faro from the NTSB Voice Data Recorder (VDR) transcripts. Those conversations on the bridge illuminate what went on in the last hours. Slade described in detail how the recovery of the VDR from the 15,000′ ocean floor of water was a major accomplishment.

So why should every leader read this book? The ship’s master, Captain Davidson, had a lot of experience but was known for not listening to the officers and crew. Never forget, it is important for leaders to listen more than they talk. In the transcripts of conversations on the ship’s bridge the officers seemed afraid or, at the very least, reluctant to challenge the route of the captain and a glaring lack of a culture for obtaining important feedback from the officers and crew. The captain had clearly not cultivated a culture that the officers felt safe to give feedback on any items they were concerned about. The transcripts showed that the officers had opinions on safer routes to take, but were never able or comfortable enough to communicate these in a way to make them so. Thus, the ship sailed right into the eye of the hurricane and its ultimate fate. Please note that I have way over simplified this story, but you need to read the book.

As I read Slade’s great book I was reminded of my friend and mentor David Marquet’s great leadership acumen and his incredible book, Leadership Is Language. In his book, Marquet uses the sinking of the El Faro as an example of leadership gone bad. David taught us that outdated top-down language from the Industrial Age playbook of leadership probably played into the terrible tragedy of the El Faro. This is another book every leader must read. Without spoiling all the content let me just say that Marquet argued that once we commit to a small step, we humans can’t help ourselves but to continue to commit in that decision. It’s just the way our brain works. We become stubborn and stick to it, even in the face of evidence that the course of action is failing. He taught us to build in pause and reflect stops. Think about it. If the crew had felt safe in a culture designed as a safe place to speak up, the alternative safer routes would have probably been chosen. Leaders must collaborate instead of coercing.

Finally, when we, as leaders, can admit we don’t know, we allow the team to admit that they don’t know. It also allows a team member to admit they DO know. Leaders must be looking for and encouraging divergent thinking. Remember, trust must be a verb before it can be a noun. I just blogged about this in Trust Is A Verb. Are you trusting your team and encouraging curiosity from everyone? To use one of David’s questions, “How can we make it better?” I had the opportunity this past week to be with David on a webinar with teachers from Canada and was reminded how important it is to move from the old definition of leadership that involves directing the thoughts, plans, and actions of others (see featured picture) to what he describes as “embedding the capacity for greatness in the people and practices of an organization, and decoupling it from the personality of the leader.” Lets get to decoupling.

Top 10 Books Of 2020

2020 was an incredible year of reading. I finished reading 119 books this year. I was an extremely tough chore to pick my top 10 and then put them in order. I love books because for a brief moment in time, books release us from the constraints of our own reality. They take us beyond our own small place in the world and into another person’s real or imaginary one. Each of us has a unique and valuable role in life. When experiencing life through the eyes of another, we encounter diverse angles on life’s most common situations. I have read such great books this year by very talented writers. Finally, I am a better person and understand many more diverse perspectives from reading 119 books this year.

Here are the posts that give the posts influenced by books I read in 2020 by each quarter:

The First Quarter Of An Incredible Year Of Reading

Second Quarter 2020 Book Inspired Posts

2020 Third Quarter Book Inspired Posts

The Books That Opened My Eyes In The Fourth Quarter Of 2020

Here is my video revealing my Top 10 Books Of 2020:

The Books That Opened My Eyes In The Fourth Quarter of 2020

Well here they are; the collection of blog posts inspired by great authors and great books in the last quarter of 2020. There has been so much great learning from books this year. So many times it might be just a sentence or paragraph that makes me pause and reflect, make me want to study something a little (or a lot deeper), or make me want to read another book. That’s why I always seem to have three to four books started at the same time. I know, that would drive many of you crazy, but it is how my mind works. Everything we read fills our mind with new information. We never know when those new bits of information might come in handy. The more knowledge we have, the better-equipped we are to tackle challenge we may face. You might want to consider allowing yourself some time to read each day. Because of all the distractions available to us now we don’t spend much time on any one thing. When you read a book, if you’re like me, all of your attention is focused on the story, I get lost in the content and the rest of the world just falls away, and you can immerse yourself in every fine detail you’re absorbing.

I’m sure I am going to need to update this post as it is just the 28th and I know of two or three posts I am formulated that are inspired by great books I am reading right now, but I wanted to go ahead and get this out there and will update before the end of the year. I’ve already posted about the posts inspired by books from the first three quarters of the year in these three posts:

The First Quarter Of An Incredible Year Of Reading

Second Quarter 2020 Book Inspired Posts

2020 Third Quarter Book Inspired Posts

Here are the posts inspired by great books for the fourth quarter of 2020:

October, 2020

Do Not Look Outside Yourself

Shine Brighter

Take Off The Mask & Cut Out Those Frustrations

Safety Nets Instead of Safety Barriers

Approaching The World With A Sense Of Childlike Wonder

November, 2020

Becoming The First Me

Getting Wound Around The Axle

What Are Your Filters

Catch Me And Prop Me Up!

Leading With Artisanship

Building A Community

Beyond COVID-19

The Education Catapult

Do Ideas Cause Change Or Does Change Cause Ideas?

Spreading The Wealth

December, 2020

Do You Feel Like I Do On Christmas 2020?

Building The Cocoon

The Language To Open Our World

Adding Fiction To The Reading Diet

Going Platinum

If Only We Would Just Ask

A Great Unknown

A Penguin Inspired Quest


Going Platinum

Last week I had the opportunity to lead a session at our Principal’s Academy. My topic was “Professional Capacity of School Personnel.” Building the capacity of others is a passion area of mine. As a believer in intent-based leadership I love telling the story of creating a leader-leader instead of leader-follower community. I learned this from former United States Navy Captain David Marquet, who also taught me that we should build relationships such to understand how others want to be treated and understand their needs.

In Leadership Is Language Marquet taught us that we need to change the way we communicate. We need to drop the prehistoric language of command and control and learning the language of creativity, collaboration, and commitment. When building the capacity of our teams, how we communicate matters.

This session I brought in some other content that I was introduced to by my friend Maya Hu-Chan, author of Saving Face. She introduced me to the “Platinum Rule.” The “Platinum Rule” is the brain-child of Dr. Tony Alessandra and goes like this: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.” Brilliant! Ever since being introduced to this I have been sharing with as many as I can.

What a difference. The Platinum Rule accommodates the feelings of others. The focus of relationships shifts from “this is what I want, so I’ll give everyone the same thing” to “let me first understand what they want and then I’ll give it to them.” This brings empathy and compassion to a new level.

This really resonated with the group and they spent time discussing how to implement this into their daily work as a principal and leader of learning. I was so thrilled to get this message in a thank you email today: “Some even shouted out your presentation in their follow-up feedback. When asked “What is the most important thing you will take away from today?” One wrote “Strategies to get into the classroom – a great perspective from one of the presenters, ‘treat teachers the way they want to be treated.'” You never know what will resonate with participants, but I am thrilled that others are now treating others the way they want to be treated. Let’s all go platinum!

Empowerment Needs No Menus!

Angelika & I

To empower means “to give somebody power or authority” and also “to give somebody a sense of confidence or self-esteem.” I believe we can change someone’s world every single day. I have something I love to do when going to a new restaurant for the first time. I’ll tell the server to not give me a menu, and pick the meal for me. To me, this is the ultimate act of empowerment and intent-based leadership. I first did this with my dear friend and leadership idol, David Marquet, when we went out to eat one evening.

Well, last night was the 142nd day of the Global COVID-19 Pandemic; and I was in a restaurant for the first time. We went to Riverstone Corner Bistro in Canton, Georgia, after setting up for our Impact Georgia teacher professional development happening today. So, to my table-guests surprise, told our server, Angelika, “I’m not going to look at the menu online (the way Riverstone limits contact) and I just want you to pick my entire meal for me.” At first she was a little taken back, but then we could tell she was beginning to have fun with this. She even came running back to the table and said, “I’ve got an idea and just want to know if you like lots of cheese.” I, of course, said “Yes” and away she went.

Here’s the deal: Angelika did a perfect job of showcasing the great food of Riverstone Corner Bistro and her abilities as a sever to meet the needs of her customers. She showcased a menu great and favorite if her own – Scallops Risotto. She was beaming when she brought it to the table and beamed even more when I said, “You could not have made a better pick.” It was awesome! And, as I told my table-mates, I probably would not have picked that, but because I empowered someone else, her life was brightened and I got an even better meal.

To empower someone, you have to help them feel proud of the good things they do. This is truly the essence of empowerment. It was clear that Angelika was proud of the menu items she chose for me and of the restaurant where she works. I merely opened the the door and created space for creative thinking. This requires discipline and patience on a leaders part. It also means we take a little risk, but it is worth it. We can provide hints or prompts, like my giving in and acknowledging I like cheese, but allowing those we serve to discover the answer will empower them in future situations.

Less “Why” and More “How To”

IMG_6531Recently, I was sitting in on some teacher professional development sessions and I looked over at a teacher’s notes and saw that he had written, “I need less ‘why’, and more ‘how to”. This really struck me because I had just interrupted an earlier session to see how many really thought they would be able to jump right in and do the task being trained on – some thought they could, but many wanted to try it and then have someone ready to help them. Having spent most of my career in the classroom I knew it was thing to have been shown how to do something, and then actually doing it when there were 30+ young scholars staring you in the face.

After seeing this note, I began to think about whether we had become so enamored with always explaining the “why” that we were missing the mark on the “how”. Clearly in these trainings we were for at least one participant. This struck home with me because I believe in my own world I get a lot of “why”, and then there are very few who really understand the “how”. As you will find later in this post, we need both.

I told the teacher after the session that I had seen his note and was interested. He told me it was not being critical, but he needed more time on how to do some of the tasks than so much time on why. I told him this made total sense. Really, the why should be about the vision in a quick statement of the importance and not a dissertation, or what turns into a chance for the presenter to pontificate and gain self gratification. Many times, I have found, this is because the person presenting does not understand how to do the task very well themselves.

The more I thought about this, I realized we have become very “into” talking about the “why” of everything. I get it! I really do, but because of all the writing about the “why” I believe we are forgetting to develop the “how” to the same extent. Even though the title of Simon Sinek’s great book Start With Why focuses on the “why,” he still told us that there must be those doing the “how.” For example, without Roy Disney, Walt Disney’s vision would never have been carried out. Thinking about all this brought to mind one of my favorite parts of L. David Marquet’s great book Turn The Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders. Marquet explained to us in the book that when practicing intent-based leadership, where everyone is a leader, we must provide the needed technical training or it will be chaos. Genius, right! I might know “why” I need to put a fire out on a submarine, but if I don’t know “how” it becomes a bigger problem. So I might add to Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, “Finish With How”.

Think about it from a school perspective; if I spend an hour telling you how important taking accurate attendance is each period for high school students and why each period will be analyzed and rolled into the daily attendance, but then don’t spend the majority of the time making sure you understand the management program (technology) and how to use it, I have failed you. Also, we would need to make sure you understand the best practices of taking proper attendance at the beginning of the period and then updating for individual circumstances that happen during the period. I believe you get the idea, but it has become to easy and “cool” to just spend time on the “why” because that is the latest buzz phrase – “gotta tell them the why.” I’m cool with that, but make sure I understand “how to” too!

How about you? Do you need less “why”, and more “how to”?