Byron's Babbles

Where Is Your Leadership Engine Order Telegraph Set?

I had the opportunity this past week to visit and tour the SS American Victory Ship and Museum in Tampa, Florida. It is an outstanding icon of America during times of war. I particularly learned a lot from the museum and the person there who answered all my questions and took the time to have a lengthy conversation with me. Before that day I really did not know much about Merchant Marine ships, how they were operated, and the relationship to the US Navy. I’m still pretty ignorant, but I am learning.

The SS American Victory was a Merchant Marine cargo ship that supplied our troops at the end of World War II, and then in the Korean Conflict and Vietnam. This ship hauled ammunition, cargo, and troops. The ship was run by the Merchant Marines, but of the crew of 62 part were US Navy personnel who manned the weapons in case of attack. This ship was launched 74 years to the day (May 24) I was there, in 1945. It only took our patriotic citizens 55 days to build the ship.

The exhibits in the museum are awesome and I had the chance to explore the entire ship. I was especially inspired in the wheel house, or bridge, as I looked out the port hole windows and thought about the decisions leaders had to make on this very deck. Then when I went above to the outdoor wheelhouse deck I studied the Engine Order Telegraph (the featured picture of this post). I immediately realized I had found another great metaphor that I believe represents the ways many organizations, leaders, associations, and governments work. Earlier last week I blogged about metaphors in Leading By Metaphor.

The Engine Order Telegraph, also known as an EOT, is a device that transmitted the orders from the pilot to the engine room. It has slow, half, and full for both ahead and astern (reverse). Also, it has stop, stand by, and finished with engine. As I stood there studying the EOT on a beautiful sunny day in beautiful Tampa Ybor Channel and thought about how these are incredible metaphors for leadership.

On these older style ships the captain didn’t physically control the ship like on today’s ships. On this ship the EOT would telegraph what the captain needed and engineer in the engine room made the adjustments – slow down, open up the throttle, et cetera. I thought about how this ship would have been like an orchestra with the captain as the conductor and the deck and engine crew playing the instruments.

As leaders we have the opportunity be a part of telegraphing full speed ahead, reversing the engines, slowing down, or stand by which I believe is analogous to status quo. I chuckled to myself that the EOT was set to stand by because I am such a status quo hater. If I was captain of a ship it would probably be hard to order stand by. I’m kind of a Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut kind of guy – “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” We all have to make decisions using the best intel available at the time from collaboration with our teams to enter the correct decisions into our metaphorical EOTs. We work in such a high speed environment! Therefore, we must figure out ways for professional growth of our leaders and teams on how to achieve organizational goals in the shortest time possible. We must then also find ways to provide maximum professional growth in the shortest time possible.

Therefore, we need to be ready to ring the bells for full speed ahead, just as Rear Admiral Farragut did in Mobile Bay in 1864. Had those ships not been willing to go ahead full, they probably would not be successful. I can tell you that the SS American Victory Ship and Museum team have their EOT set on full speed ahead for telling the story of the important work of Merchant Marine ships. How about you and your organization? Are you stuck in the status quo of stand by? Or will you make the call for full speed ahead?

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It’s Not My Story To Tell

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Hailey showing off her temporary Emoji tattoo

I am writing this post as I sit in the airport waiting to fly home after a few days in central Florida facilitating our last 3D Leadership sessions for the spring semester. I am going to miss doing these in June and July, not just because I love doing them and working with all the great leaders that I have the opportunity to serve, but also because of all the learning and reflecting I am able to do as well. We have had so many great discussion and I have a whole list of topics I want to reflect deeper on and study.

This post is about communication, but not the normal topics related to communication like the leader that talks in espoused cliche´infused declarations like “Students first,” or “Customers first,” “All hands on deck,” or “We need to move with urgency.” Over and over again, they present grand, overarching and fuzzy statements of who really knows what. Too often we assume that everyone shares the same definitions for terms that go on and on like vision, value, move with urgency (does that mean I’m supposed to run everywhere?), teamwork, focus, strategy, and on and on. While it is important for great leaders to get a handle on this communication issue, this is not the focus of tonight’s post.

Tonight, I remembered a statement by one of our North Carolina members, Hailey Odum, made in her first session while reflecting on what she wanted to be as a leader. Hailey said it bothered her when people talk about things they either shouldn’t be talking about, or really don’t know all the details about. She said she does not tell the story if: “It’s not my story to tell.” This really hit me because this is a pet peeve of mine as well.

You know the individuals Hailey and I are talking about here:

  • need to know everything and probably don’t.
  • want you to know they know something.
  • usually don’t have all the details.
  • flaunt that someone called them and let them know something before you, or even say, “I’ll bet they haven’t told you yet.”
  • start with: “I’m not supposed to know this, but so and so told me.”
  • you hear in a meeting an announcement and are told it is not public yet, but you heard a group talking about it the week before with all the details you just heard.

When I look at these items in bullet list form it almost reminds me of being in the third grade again. I am sure you could probably add another six bullet points to this list, but you get the point. Now this is not to say that I do not know things at times in advance of others or that others don’t confide in me at times, but I really do try to use Hailey’s sniff test of asking myself “Is it my story to tell?” If it is not then I shouldn’t. Notice I did not say I don’t because I am not perfect, but I have to say I am much better at applying the sniff test since Hailey pointed this out as a leadership trait that needed to be followed.

This then goes to thinking about how communication is handled. For example if you work in a team, it is probably not healthy for certain team members to find out things ahead of others. If we have to say things like “Oh, I thought you knew.” or “You didn’t hear this yet.” or the worst one “So and so probably didn’t tell you, but she let me know (you’ve just been told you are not worthy of knowing at the same time as everyone else).” Now in reality what we may have just experienced is simply terrible communication skills, but even so, this is a little bit like leadership by the game of telephone. And, because it is probably not the person who is telling you story to tell, things maybe are not represented correctly.

I really appreciate Hailey bringing this up as a topic of discussion because it has now been something that I consciously think about. So next time you know something, or think you know something, ask yourself, “Is that my story to tell?” Nine times out of ten I’ll bet you answer, “It’s not my story to tell.”

Leading By Metaphor

IMG_5843I use metaphors all the time. Sometimes I wonder if I use them too much, but this week while reading the very instructive book The Art Of Innovation by Tom Kelley I was reminded that we need to lead and innovate by metaphor. He said, “We should lead by metaphors.” Metaphors are a powerful tool. A metaphor can give us a powerful and clear image of who we want to be, what we want to learn, how we want to learn, and how we want to grow. Our metaphors serve as examples of how we want to contribute to the world.

indexMetaphors also serve as reminders of what we do not want to be. I am reminded of the toy lawnmower on my desk that serves as a constant reminder of how when innovating, reforming, or leading change many let protecting their own, or their organization’s, turf get in the way. I literally say things like, “Time to get the lawnmowers out.” or we are going to need a really big lawnmower for this group.” In fact I blogged about this in The Frustrating Truth of Turf. Another metaphor I use a lot is that of going up a hill with bullets flying and turning around and everyone else is headed down the hill. Then my metaphor of just putting on the Kevlar™ and doing what is right comes into play.

If you haven’t noticed I really do talk in metaphores. So, to me you do not just need to pick one, you can pick multiple metaphors for whatever the situation. As a believer in adaptive leadership, these metaphors serve an important purpose. They, as I stated earlier, serve as powerful reminders and serve as great ways to tell a story. People you are working or collaborating with can relate to the metaphor. It makes the issue or topic relevant, and as you know, I am all about putting all learning into a relevant context. For example, when it comes to policy I use the metaphor of Patrick Henry a lot. As one of our founding fathers he stands as a lasting image of America’s struggle for liberty. He inserted himself as a leader in every protest and move against British tyranny and in the movement for colonial rights. Most of all, though, he believed in states rights, local autonomy, and very limited government.

As a believer in intent based leadership Patrick Henry serves as an important reminder that decisions should be made as close to where the data is created – local control. You can compare this to classroom teachers in a school or governments. How do we remove obstacles and let what needs to be done, done? Which then always brings a metaphor of that people use to describe my desires, “What you want would create the wild west.” Guilty as charged! But think about how much innovation and change was happening in the wild west.

Another metaphor I have used before is that of Abraham Lincoln bringing the nation back together. In fact I use that so much that friends photo-shopped a picture that I have included in this post. It serves as an important reminder to me of how important it is to bring everyone together for a common cause and respect everyone, just as Abraham Lincoln did following the Civil War by showing respect for the confederate south. I need this metaphorical example because this unification is not always easy and I am not always the best at it. We all have a tendency to go tribal.

Kelley told us in The Art Of Innovation we should choose a metaphor for every project or everything we do. Again, they serve as such powerful reminders for us. Just like the airplane wing hanging in one of the office areas of IDEO. What metaphors do you use?

Do Others Like The Vibes You Give Off?

I pride myself in always having a great attitude. In fact if you were to ask those that know me they would tell you that one of my mantras would be my answer to the question of how I am doing: “I don’t know how I could be any better!” And, I really do believe this.

“The ‘secret’ of success is not very hard to figure out. The better you are at connecting with other people, the better the quality of your life.” ~ Nicholas Boothman

Amazingly this fits with my philosophy of having a great attitude all the time. This is affirmed in Nicholas Boothman’s great book that I am reading right now entitled How To Make People Like You In 90 Seconds. He talks about either having a “really useful attitude” or a “really useless attitude”. I have found, as Boothman also points out in the book, it always pays to have the useful attitude. In fact he provides a great table of both useful and useless attitudes.

From How To Make People Like You In 90 Seconds by Nicholas Boothman

Then, yesterday when flying into Orlando, Florida I had this affirmed when I picked up my rental car. When I went to my Preferred area, the agent told me that they were out of the vehicles in the selected size I always get. I said, “Okay, let’s just figure out what you’ve got; it will be okay.” I was in A garage and she said, you know if you want to go over to B garage they’ve got one. It’s a short walk, so said “No problem. Let’s do that.” Now could have got all huffy and holier than though, but really, what would that have gotten me – nothing.

As I was walking away the agent said, “Thanks for having a great attitude. I like your vibes you give off.” This made my day because I do try to always give off good vibes. Boothman would have been proud because I couldn’t help but take a moment and be the teacher I am and tell her about the book and what I had learned about useful and useless attitudes.

Then when I got to the other garage, I found that the first agent had called over and told them to take good care of me and give me an upgrade to a premium vehicle. So what did having a useful attitude get me? A premium ride. To be clear, however, I am not saying to just have the useful attitude to get stuff or be upgraded. I am saying, as my story proves, authentically having a useful attitude will be just that – useful. So, if we want to live a premium and top shelf life we need to always have useful attitude. What kind of vibes are you giving off?

Leading Toward Morale

As a student of IDEO, a global design company, I was intrigued by a comment that Tom Kelley made in the great book, The Art Of Innovation: “Morale cannot be planned or created.” This is so true. I have actually watched leaders try to plan organizations out of poor morales. It never works. Either the things that foster great morale are happening, or they aren’t.

Leading has to be so much more than just telling people what to do. It’s about building a rapport and fostering real relationship with those that are a part of the organization. Rapport in turn creates trust and then things can get things done. Unfortunately, many leaders either don’t care about morale, or have the belief that giving a pep talk every so often, having a get together or party every so often, or sending someone a gift card will build morale. While these are nice things, they have nothing to do with morale.

So what is morale? Dictionary.com defines it as: “emotional or mental condition with respect to cheerfulness, confidence, zeal, etc., especially in the face of opposition; hardship, etc.: the morale of the troops.” (Retrieved 5/22/2019 from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/morale) Employee morale describes the overall outlook, attitude, satisfaction, and confidence that employees feel at work. We can’t give an employee positive morale. As a leader, though, we do control large components of the environment in which employees work each day. Consequently, we are a powerful contributor to whether a team member’s morale is positive or negative.

When our team members believe they are part of the goals that are bigger than themselves, or their job, this contributes significantly to positive employee morale. We want to feel as if we are part of something important and contributing to success for the greater good is a real morale booster. A deep focus on serving the needs of customers, students, and families, also promotes positive staff morale. Think about this: when employees have confidence in the capability of their organization’s or school’s leadership, they tend to have positive morale.

So if we can’t plan for or create morale, what are we to do? We must create an environment of shared vision for where the school or organization is headed and is positive about the direction. In this environment employees will exhibit high morale. I we genuinely planning to make changes based on feedback, our authenticity will be apparent.

It requires a great team to steer the organization or school toward progress, and if that great team involves happy employees with high morale, the journey will be successful.

Stand Your Ground & Be The Example

IMG_5702Setting an example through your own practice illustrates to others that change is a shared endeavor. True leaders are the pinnacle of what they expect from the people around them. And by setting an example, true leaders encourage their people to aim for that. By walking your talk, you become a person others want to follow. When leaders say one thing, but do another, they erode trust–a critical element of productive leadership.

Great leaders are persistent. Try, try again. Go over, under or around any hurdles to show that obstacles, what I like to call opportunities, don’t define your company or team. This will allow you to create solutions. Don’t dwell on problems; instead be the first to offer solutions and then ask your team for more. 

Furthermore, being the first to change can be challenging. As a pioneer, you have to overcome resistance to the status quo. We humans get used to the way things are. Yet those who dare to rock the boat are in a position of tremendous power, and can send ripples of inspiration out to the world. Lead by example because others will become curious. Remember, our actions are much more persuasive than than our words.

Leadership Is Empowerment

IMG_5706By being generous and loving, we become better leaders. Our kindness inspires others to follow in our footsteps. Humans require community in order to survive. As individuals we are week, but together we are strong. We need to strive for greatness, but we need to lift others as we rise. The goal is not to tower over our fellow humans, but rather to lift them up to where we are. If we all want to succeed ourselves, we cannot do it alone.

Leadership is empowerment. It’s lifting others up, helping them advance, and making them a part of something bigger than themselves. In short, it’s helping people to be a little closer to who they’re meant to be. Our leadership ability won’t be measured by our own advancement, but how well we advance the lives of others.

How does your leadership success measure up?

What We Know, And Don’t Quite Know We Know

Posted in Adaptive Leadership, Growth Mindset, Leadership, Uncategorized by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on May 16, 2019

IMG_5683I finished a great book by David Brooks this past week entitled The Second Mountain: The Quest For A Moral Life. He used a phrase in the book that really intrigued me: “What we know, and what we don’t quite know we know.” I’ve written about not knowing what we don’t know before, but this idea there being things we don’t quite know we know is intriguing to me. At first I related it to being curious, but I believe it had more to do with our learned knowledge and experiences that give us knowledge and perspective about things yet to be learned.

“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” ~ Donald Rumsfeld, Former Secretary Of Defense

Case in point: this past week I was asked to research what we needed in terms of a website to market new professional development materials and services we have for schools to buy. At first I’m thinking, “I am so the wrong person for this!” I’m not a marketer, nor web development person. Then I started doing some research and got hooked up with a great resource at a web development company, who was happy to mentor me, fill in the gaps of my research, and help me develop the right questions to be asking back with the team.

What I found was, that while I did not have much (actually none) of the technical knowledge necessary for moving this project forward, I did have valuable user knowledge of what the website needed to be like. These were the things I didn’t know I knew, but by asking questions of the right people I was learning. I found I knew some vital things crucial to product success, such as:

  1. Making the website fast and easily navigated.
  2. Make it simple.
  3. Make the landing page in a way that hooks readers.
  4. Make it about solving problems.

Just understanding these things from my own experience using websites I was able to fill in the knowledge gap with the help of the website design gurus. No matter the scale, discovering your explanatory gaps is essential for innovation. An undiagnosed gap in knowledge means you might not fully understand a problem. That can hinder innovative solutions. To discover the things you can’t explain, take a lesson from teachers. When you instruct someone else, you have to fill the gaps in your own knowledge. A couple of tips would be to explain concepts to yourself as you learn them and engage others in collaborative learning.

Next time you take on something outside your current knowledge base, think about what you already know and what you don’t quite know you know. I’ll bet you know more than you think.

Remember Who You Are And Be Okay With It

IMG_3778One of my favorite compliments to give someone is: “Thanks for being YOU!” I believe it is a powerful compliment because it implies that what makes that person such a unique human being comes from deep within. What I am trying to do is give unconditional gratitude. I want the person to remember who they are and be okay with it. When I say, “Thanks for being YOU!” I am not just saying thank you for what the person has done – I am saying thank you for who he or she is. I am telling him or her that I value them as a person.

“Thanks for being YOU!” Even for all the mistakes the person made and the flaws he or she found that they want to change. For the times he or she did and the times he or she could not, for one day they will all add up. Any of us at our best is what serves us all best. We need each of us to be who we are in order to shape the future. We grow into being who we are one day at a time. We need everyone’s contribution. We need your contribution as much as mine. It’s something we build as much as we find, to do either takes a present mind.

Remember, you are not a robot or a Barbie™. Therefore, let’s be who we are and be okay with it. This does not mean that we should not work to improve or learn new things. It means we need to be okay with who we are as we continue to improve and evolve as the person we are. I believe every person is a work of art. Research indicates that our capacity for self-evolution and growth of our personality, mental capacities, relationships and actions are all based on conscious intent. Shaping our being is like making art; the same way an artist develops, evolves and creates a painting; or a composer creates music. We can all make our conscious being and all that emanates from it a work of art. As I always say, “There is no bad art.” So let’s go out there and remember who we are and be okay with it.

Getting The Whole View

The person who tries to hide weaknesses actually highlights them rather than concealing them. This concealment actually creates the perception of a lack of integrity and self-awareness. This is why I hate the term “fake it till you make it.” I don’t even think that is possible. At least not in all situations. Let’s face it, whether you acknowledge your weaknesses or not, everyone still sees them.

Self-awareness is probably one of the most important focus areas for leaders, but least discussed. When we are self-aware we can concede all the things we still need to learn and admit any missteps or mistakes we make. These can then turn into teachable and learning moments that give everyone on our organizations permission to be collaborative, thus creating a learning organization.