Byron's Babbles

Leading Like WD-40

Sometimes it really is “rocket science.” Pretty much everyone knows WD-40® is the go-to product for silencing squeaks, displacing moisture, preventing rust, and loosening stuck parts. You probably have a can sitting in your house, garage, or bike toolkit right now. You can find several cans in multiple locations here on our farm. Back in the day we even used more cans than now when we had to regularly pop distributor caps off and spray in WD-40® to displace condensation. In fact, WD-40’s nickname is “toolkit in a can.” What a great product!

The product itself was invented in San Diego back in 1953 to stop corrosion in the umbilical cord of the Atlas space rockets, so the product actually came out of the space era. So, yes, it is rocket science. It’s called WD-40® because there were 39 formulas that didn’t work and the 40th one did, so that’s why it’s called water displacing 40 formula. A few years ago at a leadership development gathering I was doing where participants were to bring pictures of leaders who had influenced them, we had a participant bring a picture of a can of WD-40. I loved it! What a great leadership metaphor.

The participant explained how WD-40® could help you solve almost any issue around the house. Great leaders help us and stand with us on all the everyday issues. Also, the product has stayed consistent over the years with improvements and innovations on how to best deliver, such as the Smart Straw™️ (so you don’t lose the little red straw) and No-Mess WD-40 pen. Or, my personal favorite: WD-40 EZ Reach™️ (check out the featured picture in this post). Remind you of any great leaders you’ve been associated with?

Do you have sticky sticky/rusty/inactive levers or individuals in your organization. Consider leading like WD-40® and help disperse the distractions keeping those you serve from achieving greatness.

Are You Headed For Extinction?

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, Top Gun, Top Gun Maverick by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on August 7, 2022

It probably says something about a movie that I am now writing a third blog about in as many days. I just really enjoyed Top Gun: Maverick. Maverick (Tom Cruise), still a captain, is now in his fifties and after yet again demonstrating his rule breaking ways, is tasked with what is said to be his final mission. Maverick has been ordered to train a new group of pilots for what amounts to a suicide mission. As I referred to earlier, I have already blogged about this movie in “How Do I Teach That?” and “Top Leaders Are Single Faced Not Two Faced.” Maverick has matured since 1986, when he was a young hotshot pilot. In 2022, he is a much more mature individual with regrets and a level of humility. Maverick had mature, but still had the core value of helping others. In the beginning of movie a Navy general was looking to shut down a new Stealth airplane project unless Maverick could fly it at 10 Gs. Maverick’s friend, “Hondo” Coleman said to him, “You know what happens if you go through with this.” Risking his safety and career, Maverick responded, “I know what happens to everyone if I don’t.” He did fly the plane at 10 Gs, and of course went past 10 Gs. While I won’t spoil what happened if you haven’t seen the film, teams respect someone who can get results and performs.

A rear admiral tells Maverick, “Thirty-plus years of service. Combat medals. Citations. Only man to shoot down three enemy planes in the last 40 years. Yet you can’t get a promotion, you won’t retire, and despite your best efforts, you refuse to die. You should be at least a two-star Admiral by now, yet here you are. Captain. Why is that?… The future is coming and you’re not in it. Your kind is headed for extinction.” Maverick responded, “Maybe so, sir. But not today.” Maverick proved himself relevant by personally demonstrating how the mission he was training the pilots for could actually be accomplished. When leaders lead by example, it gives their teams hope and inspires them to do likewise. As Maverick said, “It’s not the plane, it’s the pilot.” Maverick also taught us with, “What is achievable comes down to the pilot in the box.” We learned that what is achievable in our organizations comes down the team and having the right people in the right seats on the plane (pun intended).

Top Leaders Are Single Faced Not Two Faced

Yesterday I blogged about the great movie Top Gun: Maverick. In “How Do I Teach That?” I discussed the great line from Maverick (Tom Cruise): “It’s not what I am, it’s who I am. How do I teach that?” Today, I want to post about the other great line that jumped out at me. Twice during the movie two different people said to Maverick, “Don’t give me that look.” Maverick’s response is so telling. His response showed his genuineness and was very endearing, when he simply said, “It’s the only one I got.” How about that for authenticity? Pun intended here; top leaders are single-faced, not two-faced.

Two-faced leaders are actually selfish. Unfortunately we all have probably experienced the two-faced leader who projects “My desire to take all glory and not be inconvenienced is infinitely more important than your personal and professional development.” Sometimes I’m not sure that’s how they truly feel, but that’s the message being screamed from the two-faced leader to everyone.

Maverick did not forget everyone is human. In the case of flying a fighter jet their must be excellence and perfection. Yet, we all know humans make mistakes. Therefore Maverick developed pilots to, in his words, “Don’t think. Do.” Now, that mantra got Maverick in trouble at times, but he was his authentic self. He also wanted pilots he would ultimately be flying with to be able to respond with spit second accuracy without thinking.

The other thing that showed Maverick’s authenticity was his genuine concern for people. The higher ranking officers would have considered the mission a success even if the pilots had not returned. This was unacceptable to Maverick. No one was dispensable. No one! We must maintain a painfully imperfect and human working environment that embraces excellence. This allows people to do their best because they can be themselves. Remember, like Maverick, we only have one face.

How Do I Teach That?

I’m not sure when I had last been in an actual movie theatre before last night for Top Gun: Maverick. It had been several years, though. My son was home and the family decided we would go. Great experience. Great movie. 🎥 Great popcorn with all the butter. 🍿 It really was a great movie. It was incredibly well-made and had many great leadership and teaching lessons. There were a couple of great lines that Maverick (Tom Cruise) made in the movie that jumped out at me. The one we will explore here is:

“It’s not what I am, it’s who I am. How do I teach that?”

Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell to Ice

At first Maverick rejects and dismisses the idea of being a teacher. In the end his students prove him wrong. The best leaders I’ve experienced have been teachers – they have worked to help develop me or give me development experiences. The leaders who are the worst at teaching or the ones that worry that someone will exceed them are the ones that have great talent slipping through their fingers. This idea of how to teach “who you are” is one I have contemplated over and over in education. In this movie it came down to the timeline of the mission being compressed so much that it sets off a wave of despondency and doubt within the ranks. The possibility of mission success seems hopeless. Maverick proves it can be done, however, by doing it. He stretches himself almost to the breaking point to serve as an inspiration to his young recruits, who now see what’s possible.

Do you model and set an example for those you serve? These are both great strategies for teaching.

Just You Leadership

“No pretenses, no masks – just you.” ~ Randy Conley in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practice, Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley. This is the 31st week of the year and I am on Simple Truth #31: “People Admire Your Strengths, But They Respect Your Honesty Regarding Your Vulnerability.” When we allow ourselves to be seen as less than perfect, others get to really know us beyond title or position. When others see us modeling this, they are more inclined to do the same.

“I think when you’re vulnerable, people realize that you, too, are human. And, perhaps even more importantly, they love your ownership of your personal positive and negative characteristics.”

Colleen Barrett, President Emerita of Southwest Airlines

I was actually discussing this with a group of teachers last week. We were discussing how back in the day, teacher educators would tell you to never let the students know if you didn’t have/know the answer. I hope no one is still giving this terrible advice. From experience, let me assure you that showing some vulnerability with students is valuable. Some of the greatest labs we did in my agricultural science classes were ones that didn’t work. Student would say, “What happened?” I would then say, “I have no idea, but l’ll bet we can figure it out together.” We would proceed to “figuring it out” and a series of learning moments would follow. Let me tell you, Colleen Barrett, president emeritus of Southwest Airlines was right; the students loved that show of vulnerability and it made our relationship stronger. Vulnerability is very powerful when it is authentic. Are you willing to be “just you?”

Leaders Trust First

“In the workplace, it’s your job as a leader to extend trust to your people first. It’s not their job to have blind faith in you simply by virtue of your power or position of power” (p. 81). I loved this from Randy Conley in Simple Truth #30 “Someone Must Make The First Move To Extend Trust. Leaders Go First.” I’ve always said you can’t workshop or activity trust. Trust has to be earned in real time work. We must first give our trust to find out if someone is trustworthy.

I think of this being like the first time I gave my son the keys to one of our vehicles after he got his drivers license and saying have a good time and please be careful. I had to trust that he would take the examples and teachings of his mother and me and put it to use as a good driver and make good choices. By the way, he earned our trust and six years later still has it. But it started with us trusting him and giving him the keys, first. I’ve always liked how Stephen M.R. Covey put it, “The job of a leader is to go first, to extend trust first. Not a blind trust without expectations and accountability, but rather a “smart trust” with clear expectations and strong accountability built into the process. The best leaders always lead out with a decided propensity to trust, as opposed to a propensity not to trust.” How about you? Are you ready to go first?

Channeling Emotions

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on July 28, 2022

I’ve been contemplating getting a new carryon bag for my travels and all seem to have the ejectable battery for charging a laptop or cell phone. As I was looking at these carryons the metaphor of channeling emotions by just plugging in came to mind. The great leaders allow that channeling to flow both ways. It was said that just the presence of General Ulysses S. Grant among the troupes brought about feelings of great courage both individually and collectively. It would seem that Grant was an emotionally intelligent leader. Emotionally intelligent leaders can improve the morale of those they serve and improve the chances of organizational growth. We need emotionally intelligent leaders who is aware of their own emotions and is present to another person’s feelings. These leaders are able to plug in, just like that battery in the suitcase. The difference is that the flow of energy in the leaders case goes both ways.

This two way channeling of emotions makes the leader aware to motivate, inspire and guide their teams by creating an environment of mutual respect. To strengthen this channeling of emotions leaders demonstrate active listening skills. They interpret circumstances around them and come up with clear answers. It really is about moving from transactional relationships to transformative relationships. In transformative relationships, both are concerned with the perspective, needs, and desires of the other person. Going back to my suitcase battery metaphor; in transformational relationships, both parties get charged. Then we prize people more deeply and value the deep meaning we get from the relationship. Relationships are everything!

Simple Faith In Success

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Invincible, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on July 26, 2022

Invincible: incapable of being conquered, overcome, or subdued. I am a huge fan of the great band Skillet. They have an incredible song Feel Invincible. Here is a line from the lyrics of the song:

You make me feel invincible

Earthquake, powerful

Just like a tidal wave

You make me brave

You’re my titanium

Fight song, raising up

Like a roar of victory in a stadium

Who can touch me ’cause I’m (I’m made of fire)

Who can stop me tonight (I’m hard wired)

You make me feel invincible

One responsibility that leaders have is to instill courage in those they serve. Those we serve don’t just going to look to us for guidance – they also expect support. The way in which we present ourselves to our teams will have an impact on how they perform in the workplace and in society. Everyone is happier and more productive when we know that we are supported and valued. In Ron Chernow’s great autobiography Grant Chernow described how Grant instilled courage in everyone around him. He seemed invincible. General Sherman described him as exhibiting a “simple faith in success.” Sherman said that Grant’s faith in success was like that of a Christian’s faith in the savior. Now that is feeling invincible!

Courage is a critical quality of a leader. Courage strengthens our determination to respond to and make a change. How well we are able to help those we serve have courage will factor in to how empowered those we serve are to create the new, dismantle the old and commit to the future. Grant was authentic and was described as being simple, honest, and unpretending. So, just like Skillet tells us: “You’re making me strong, you’re making me stand.” We need to be the courageous support for all those we serve.

Critical Improvisations

Library of Congress

As I re-read Ron Chernow’s great autobiography Grant I keep picking up things to reflect on that I didn’t catch the first time through. I already did one such reflection in Respecting and Watching With Reverence. Yesterday while reading Chernow described the campaigns of the rebellion to take control of eastern Tennessee, specifically in Chattanooga. Much credit for success was given to “critical improvisations” and “extemporaneous routing of the enemy.” As a intent-based leadership advocate, I loved these terms. The soldiers saw opportunities that would lead to success and they took them even though they were not exactly part of the original plans. The great organizations develop every person to be ready for critical improvisation and extemporaneous routes. For example, one of the skills I developed early as a teacher was the ability to improvise during lessons according to student questions and discussions. This allowed me to make extemporaneous routes for true differentiation. Did you catch that play on words I just did? I believe I still do this while facilitating to this day. I believe this is one of the most important skills we need to be developing in education. And, educators need to feel comfortable and encouraged to make critical improvisations each and every day. The data is created with the teachers and students and that is where decisions should be made.

In any organization, our environment may change hundreds of times in a single day. This improvisation and extemporaneous routing becomes understanding the nuances of each of the new or changing environments and how those changes will impact on our ability to perform optimally and effectively. Practicing improvisational techniques allow us to quickly analyze changing environmental conditions and communicate quickly and effectively within them. In improv classes we are taught the “yes and” technique. Basically, we take what we are given and develop it further. It’s about accepting a nuanced environment and changes quickly and looking for opportunities immediately. We also have to create an environment where seeking solutions is accepted.

As leaders we need to model and reward positive and risk-taking and adaptation, the faster the organization can read the nuances and improvise. After the successful Chattanooga campaign Grant asked who had ordered the charge up the mountain against soldiers who appeared to be falling back. All officers said it had not been them. Those in the field read the opportunity and acted. Grant was proud of them. Some (well actually a lot of leaders I’ve encountered would have been upset), but not Grant. He needed every soldier to be a leader. If Grant were leading today, I don’t think he would need an email asking for permission and copied to 10 other people on every issue. Unfortunately, you all reading this know the leaders I’m talking about – I hope you’ve not experienced it, but I bet you have.

Make no mistake, however, for successful critical improvisations to happen EVERYONE in the organization must have the technical skill training and development. Otherwise it will be chaos. Grant was a stickler for drilling and training. Also, there need to be clear goals with plans that allow for agility. Then, and only then, we can allow everyone to use their talent and goal focus to seize opportunities of the moment and carry out critical improvisations and extemporaneous routes.

Respecting And Watching With Reverence

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on July 23, 2022

I finished reading Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs a couple of week’s ago and proceeded to immediately start re-reading Ron Chernow’s great autobiography Grant. This exercise is taking my learning deeper as Chernow uses Grant’s memoirs in the book, plus adding a great deal of research and personal accounts of people of the time. Chernow quoted a person who said that Grant “…inspired more respect than affection. They don’t salute him, they watch him with reverence.” When I reflected on that I thought about the great leaders I have encountered and respect for them is what brings them to the top of my list. They walked the walk. Chernow also stated that Grant interacted with his men as peers. With those leaders that are on my personal Mount Rushmore we did have a peer relationship, not a superior/subordinate relationship.

When a leader sees others as peers, gives of themselves, applies empathy and emotional intelligence they know they can help others. Grant was known to get off his horse and join in working right along side his men. When we take action in the face of fear, grief, or pain we are displaying courage. Actions built on courage create confidence. The great leaders I respect see others as humans and not as objects. They have empathy and compassion. The most respected leaders know that nothing great can ever be accomplished alone. The greats inspire and earn others respect by serving them first.