Byron's Babbles

Leading Like A Thunderbird!

thunderbirdsRVMOn our way home from The Gulf on our spring break with my family we saw the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber flying over Maxwell Airforce Base in Montgomery, Alabama. This was an awesome sight of power and technological superiority. We then saw the US Air Force Thunderbirds. We were memorized by the many formations, maneuvers, and acrobatics. This was all part of the Maxwell Air Show & Open House held April 8-9, 2017. We were fortunate enough to be traveling through at just the right time.

The pilots of America’s military demonstration team, the US Air Force Thunderbirds, are some of the world’s best, performing death-defying tricks in fighter jets. While the individual skills of each pilot is admirable, what sets the pilots of the Thunderbirds apart is their ability to work as a synchronized team.

img_0136-2-1024x684I did a little research and found the mission of the Thunderbirds. Officially, the Thunderbirds are known as the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron. The squadron’s mission is to plan and present precision aerial maneuvers to exhibit the capabilities of modern, high-performance aircraft and the high degree of professional skill required to operate those aircraft. Within this broad mission, the team has five primary objectives:

  • Support Air Force recruiting and retention programs
  • Reinforce public confidence in the Air Force and to demonstrate to the public theprofessional competence of Air Force members
  • Strengthen morale and esprit de corps among Air Force members
  • Support Air Force community relations and people-to-people programs
  • Represent the United States and its armed forces to foreign nations and project international goodwill

The Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon represents the full range of capabilities possessed by the Air Force’s tactical fighters. This highly-maneuverable multi-role fighter has proved to be one of the world’s best precision tactical bombers and air-to-air combat aircraft. The only modifications needed to prepare aircraft for air demonstrations are a smoke-generating system and painting in Thunderbird colors. The Thunderbirds are actually part of our combat force. This squadron must be ready for actual missions at a moments notice.maxresdefault

As I watched the precision of the maneuvers, I was awestruck by how this team of pilots could fly just one or two foot away from each other at MACH 2 speeds. It was amazing! Then I thought about how this was the ultimate example of leading teams and team cohesion. This team of pilots must be both familiar with each other and trust each other. Trust is about reliability and doing the right thing. Trust is a characteristic that builds respect and loyalty, as well as a supportive and safe work environment. I can only imagining the practice that it takes to build the familiarity and to fly as Thunderbird or be a part of the team on the ground.

Even though most of us do not have the thrill and danger of travel inches apart in aircraft going at MACH speeds, all leaders and teams must study fear, understand it, and be prepared to cope with it. I say it all the time – we must have some fear and be uncomfortable in order to grow professionally. Like fear, courage takes many forms, from a stoic courage born of reasoned calculation to a fierce courage born of heightened emotion. Experience under fire generally increases courage, as can realistic training by lessening the mystique of what we are doing.

So, just as I imagine all the practice and real-life maneuvering that goes into the Thunderbirds work, we must all strive to learn in the real time/real world context of what we do. Strong leadership which earns the respect and trust of team limits the effects of fear. Leaders should develop unit cohesion and the self-confidence of individuals within the team. In this environment a team member’s unwillingness to violate the respect and trust of his peers will overcome personal fear. This is why we must help our team members to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and get out of their comfort zone to learn new maneuvers and give great performance. Are you leading like the Thunderbirds?


Thanks For Not Being An Expert

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My Awesome Delta Flight Attendant!

I wrote the following post yesterday during a day of flight delays trying to get to Pensacola, Florida to ultimately hook up with my family. Literally, I wrote the post in the cover of the book I am reading by Frederick (Rick) M. Hess, Letters to a Young Education Reformer. This post came to mind as I was reading the chapter entitled, “Why You Shouldn’t Put Too Much Faith In Experts.” Here’s what I wrote in the cover of the book:

Thanks For Not Being An Expert

I was inspired to write this post, honestly, by my flight attendant. She kept me up to date on what was going on during a day riddled with delays and cancellations. I had started the process in the afternoon yesterday when my flight to Atlanta was cancelled. I then started the process at 6:30 this morning and had been cancelled and delayed again until 12 noon when we finally got on the plane. I now did not think I was going to make my connection in Atlanta to get picked up by my wife and son in Pensacola, Florida. It might not have been quite as big a deal except for the fact that my son, Heath, and I were scheduled to go bow fishing tonight. rick_hess_book_portrait

For the trip I had brought along my friend, Rick Hess’s new book,  Letters to a Young Education Reformer. It is an awesome book and while sitting on a delayed plane I read the chapter “Why You Shouldn’t Put Too Much Faith In Experts.” As a guy that does not really believe in using experts, subject matter experts (SMEs), or consultants, I loved this chapter. Really, it’s not that experts are bad, but we just shouldn’t rely on their word as the final word. As Rick says, “I’ve found that experts often forget that their expertise represents just a tiny sliver of the world, and thus overestimate how much they know and what it can tell us. And that can cause problems” (p. 32).

My flight attendant let me know that my connecting flight had been delayed in Atlanta. She was not sure why we were not taking off, but she would see if she could find out and would keep me posted. Keep in mind, I was about the only friendly person on the plane. With so many flight cancellations and delays from the rash of storms across the south and eastern seaboard, everyone was struggling to get where they needed to be. The airlines were struggling to get pilots and flight crews where they needed to be.

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First Draft of This Post Written In The Cover of Letters to a Young Education Reformer

Here’s the deal; my great flight attendant did not try to be an expert, nor did she even want to be an expert. She was a great example of what I believe we should all strive to do – not give blind guesses or speculate. She certainly had flown enough to be considered an expert, but she did not try to baffle me with expertise or make assumptions based on past experiences like this one. Instead she impressed me by leading with clarity, not certainty! She used the tools and information available to keep me informed of my circumstances. As the expert flight attendant, she did the precise task, using her available information and training to keep me informed of what was going on. When I got to Atlanta she let me know we were at Terminal F, Gate 1 and that I needed to go to Terminal C, Gate 41. She also assured me I was going to make it because my connector flight had been delayed and I now had 1 hour and 10 minutes to make it on the plane. Just like with airline industry schedules, in education we don’t always have a lot of certainty as to what will work, we just need to strive for clarity. 51bHghz6ihL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Remember, the experts get it wrong all the time. The reality that when people become emotionally invested in their predictions, they cannot see straight—no matter how experienced or educated or smart they are. They become blind to other view points or the actual facts of the situation. All too many times experts begin speculating on past experiences and not the situation at hand. In his new book, “Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem Solvers,” Nat Greene calls this the “Expert Curse of Knowledge.” Experts think they know things and then don’t look at all the options. Experts should never be put in a position where their opinion means more than yours.

Are you acting too much like an expert or spending too much time listening and following experts?

Dig In & Stop Guessing

Stop Guessing by Nat Greene
Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem Solvers
by Nat Greene (Goodreads Author)

All leaders should read this book and put into practice the behaviors of sound problem solving. These behaviors are also transferable to all decision making. Particularly noteworthy is the knowledge this book provides regarding use of experts. Experts can also learn how to be more valuable by reading this book. The bevaviors for solving problems are easily implemented. By using the right data points and digging in recognizing all hard problems are solvable, we can stop guessing and make the right decisions.
~ Dr. Ernest

Decision Making vs Problem Solving — and Why the Difference Matters

file 9Decision Making vs Problem Solving — and Why the Difference Matters
By Scott Whitbread and Nat Greene

Decision-making and problem-solving are two very different techniques for conquering different challenges that businesses face. Choosing the right one in the right situation can mean the difference between business success and failure. However, businesses frequently use decision-making techniques when they should be using a problem-solving approach. This leaves important problems unsolved and value locked away.

The Difference Between-Decision Making and Problem-Solving

Both decision making and problem solving involve using information to inform an action. However, this is where their similarities end.

Decision-making involves choosing between different courses of action. The process of decision-making is clear: each option is evaluated based on a set of parameters or criteria. But the outcome is not as clear: the outcome from the decision only becomes clear when a decision is made.

Problem-solving involves finding a root cause among many possible root causes, whether or not the true root cause has emerged as a possibility in anyone’s mind. The outcome is clear: the problem should be solved in order to bring a business process back to optimal performance. But the process is not clear: what is causing the problem is not yet known, and the problem solver must explore the process without yet knowing their destination. They do not know their destination until they have discovered the root cause.

A detective is a problem-solver. Their role is to unequivocally determine who committed the crime, and thus exonerate all other suspects, and thus their objective is clear. Their journey is not clear: they may never find the criminal.

A judge is a decision-maker. Their journey is clear: they look at evidence, circumstances, and precedent in order to arrive at a judgment for a convicted criminal. But their purpose is not always clear: they face competing goals, including justly punishing the criminal, giving satisfaction to the victims, appeasing the public, setting an example for others, and not over-burdening the prison system.

In business, a problem to solve may be the explosion of the SpaceX rocket on September 1, 2016, which required detective work in order to identify the root cause. Product quality problems, talent retention problems, and customer service problems all fit this mold.

In business, decisions may include where to build a new facility and at how much capacity, what product to launch, who to hire, or what security system to use. All of these decisions are choosing between alternatives that are already apparent.

As in the case of a crime, decision-making frequently enters at the end of a problem-solving effort. Once the root cause to a problem is found, the business may need to decide between different possible solutions in order to maximize the value of the actions it takes. Before solving a problem, a business will choose which problem to devote resources to solving.

Why it Matters

When businesses correctly identify a challenge as a decision or a problem, they are able to apply the correct technique to overcome the challenge. But frequently a business will treat a problem as a decision, use the wrong approach, and fail to solve the problem.

One large chemical upgrader facility experienced frequent outages due to failing process pumps. These pumps cost millions of dollars apiece, and the outages were costing the business tens of millions per year. The pump seals were wearing down after a few months, causing the process chemical to leak. As pumps were replaced with spares, the business worked with its vendor to choose between potential upgrades for the pumps: harder seals, larger seals, or different geometries. They treated their problem like a decision to make, and despite multiple upgrades, they continued to experience outages.

When they pivoted to a problem-solving approach, and acted more like detectives, they closely observed the failures themselves, and found the presence of small, hard foreign grains. These grains caused excess friction and wore the seals down. Further problem-solving found the source of these grains–the “culprit”–and they were able to solve the problem.

How to Choose the Right Technique

A decision is the result of choosing among several alternative possibilities. You will see a decision in front of you when the business is attempting to take a step, and the next action requires identifying and evaluating the values and needs of the business in order to select an option that maximizes these.

A problem is an ongoing, intermittent, or one-time failure of a process or system to perform at an acceptable level. If a process produces errors or unacceptable products or outcomes, does not run as quickly or efficiently as it should, or poses a negative risk for a business during operation, you are experiencing a problem and should use a problem solving technique.

Choosing the right technique for your challenge requires understanding what kind of challenge lies before your business. Learning to recognize and differentiate between these kinds of challenges will help you pick the right approach, and successfully overcome the challenge.


Nathaniel Greene is the co-founder and current CEO of Stroud International, and author of Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem-Solvers. Nat has a Masters of Engineering from Oxford University and studied design, manufacturing and management at Cambridge University, in addition to executive education coursework in Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program.

A Whisper In The Wind

file 8The pigs are running the farm. So begins the story of Farmer Able. Everyone on his farm — people and animals alike — are downright downtrodden by him. He’s overbearing and compulsively obsessed with profits and productivity. He’s a typical top-down, power-based manager, forever tallying production numbers in his well-worn ledgers. But the more he pushes the hoofs and horns and humans, the more they dig in their heels. That is until one day when he hears a mysterious wind that whispers: “It’s not all about me.” Can he turn things around and begin attending to the needs of those on his farm, thus improving their attitudes and productivity?

The following is an excerpt from chapter 9 of Farmer Able.

A Whisper In The Wind

31PMR15bDfL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_In this oily, oaty shack, the farmer would lay out his bulky ledgers. He meticulously transferred numbers from the little book in his bib overalls’ pocket to the hefty registers. The farmer found strange comfort in the ruled pages as he ground his pencil ever sharper and wrote out the pluses and mostly minuses of his accounts. He stored the ledgers, marked year-by-year, in file cabinets that stood like metal testaments to his many failures. His less-thans and could-have-beens were committed to ink and paper and encased in steel.

This simple little exercise of keeping his accounts was exhausting. Every entry took a heavy toll. The good farmer spent so much time worrying over the numbers that the only thing that was adding up was his anxiety. His overworked mind—not to mention the day-to-day grind to get all his jobs done—would regularly cause an overstressed stomach. Farmer Able had developed a persistent bellyache.

As Farmer Able stared at the penciled numbers, trying to avoid the acid in his stomach, he noticed something quite strange. The old barn siding, which had become weathered over the years, always had a creaky sound to it. However on this night, the spring wind that blew outside conspired to create an odd whine and wail as it forced itself up against the old boards.

Moan went the wind, then groan went the boards at an even higher pitch as the gusts accelerated. The effect was like breath across the reeds of a harmonica. Adding to the sound was a singsongy whistle.

The farmer put down his pencil. He just had to fix that irritating sound, so he went outside and stumbled along the shed trying to locate the shaky boards. However, he could find nothing that fixed the spot of the strange reverberation.

With one particularly strong gust of southern wind, his attention was turned to an even more unusual creak. It came from the old walnut tree standing as it had for some 80 years in the lot just outside the granary. The moan and groan were even more pronounced in the tree as the branches moved in the wind. It had a distinctive tone to it that the farmer hadn’t heard before. The sound went beyond a rustle or even a swoosh.

Adding to this display was a light dance on the tree itself. The full moon that shone down that night lit up the old walnut with a curious luminescence. The branches were silvery and appeared to glow.

Farmer Able thought “What the dickens?” as old leaves left over from autumn swirled at his feet. There appeared to be something stirring, a conspiring of sorts between wind and light and tree. As he stared dumbfounded, the sounds took on even more definition. From creak and moan . . . to oooh-weee-oooh to aaaa-ble.

Did the wind just say his name?

And then—sweet molly moonlight!—Farmer Able heard a most distinct English word: It’s.

The word faded with the wind. The farmer wiggled a finger in his ear. Surely he wasn’t hearing what he was hearing. He was about to leave, when suddenly the wind gathered itself again, and through the branches came words with even more particularity: It’s . . . not . . .

Accompanying the words was that unmistakable twinkling from moon to branches. The sounds of the words were in rhythm with the pulse of that light. The articulation came from the wind, across the tree, and then it resonated on the creaky boards of the granary. He was hearing it coming and going, inside and out.

It’s . . . not . . . about …

The wind sound trailed off like it was taking a breath. Then summoning itself again, a gust built up.

It’s . . . not . . . about . . . me.

The reverb echoed off the granary: . . . about . . . me . . . me . . . me. The wispy resonance faded into the night.

Suddenly the wind stopped dead. All was still. Farmer Able just stood there in the silence. Mysteriously, he could still hear the words inside.


Art Barter believes everyone can be great, because everyone can serve. To teach about the power of servant leadership, Art started in his own backyard by rebuilding the culture of the manufacturing company he bought, Datron World Communications. Art took Datron’s traditional power-led model and turned it upside down and the result was the international radio manufacturer grew from a $10 million company to a $200 million company in six years. Fueled by his passion for servant leadership, Art created the Servant Leadership Institute (SLI).

To learn more about Art and his new Servant Leadership Journal, as well as his book on servant leadership, Farmer Able: A Fable About Servant Leadership Transforming Organizations And People From The Inside Out, endorsed by Stephen M.R. Covey, Ken Blanchard , and John C. Maxwell , visit .

Early Departure

file 2I am excited to do a blog post about a new best practice I discovered when reading the great book Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block. I had always felt awkward when leaving a meeting or event early and would tell the host ahead of time and just slip out – hopefully unnoticed. I have since learned this is not best practice. Block (2009) suggested that when a participant leaves early, there is a hole and kind of emptiness left behind. The early exit leaves a void. There is a cost and consequence for this and the departure takes energy and resources from the experience of both the person leaving and those staying behind. We need to take this seriously, because this loss is an element of engagement.

We need to treat the early departure just like any other important element of the meeting or gathering. Here are five steps to how this can be done:

  1. Ask in the beginning for people to give notice of leaving. Ask them to leave in public, not to sneak out in the dark of night or in silence or during a break.
  2. Acknowledge their leaving in a deliberate way. Have them announce to the group that they are leaving and where they are going. This will create some discomfort, but that is the nature of separation.
  3. Have three people from the group say, “Here’s what you’ve given us . . .” This is a moment for the gifts conversation.
  4. Ask the soon-to-be-departed, “What are you taking with you? What shifted for you, became clearer? What value have you received as a result of being here? Is there anything else you’d like to say to the community?”
  5. Thank them for coming.

Clearly, there are variations to what I have provided above that would work. The most important thing, however, is that you do something for acknowledgment of early departing group members. Let me tell you, the first few times of doing this seemed awkward and counter intuitive to letting an early departing guest slip out, but honestly this has made our gatherings much richer. I believe our participants would tell you that it seems awkward to not do the above five steps now. In fact I used this process with a state official who left early during a World Cafe`style stakeholder gathering we did last week. He texted me after he left and thanked me for handling his departure the way I did. He had great insights to share before he left and the group left him feeling worthwhile with their comments before he left. This truly is a best practice.

In fact, if I have to leave a meeting early that I am attending and not in charge of, I ask if we can do this process. We owe it to our communities to take this seriously. How do you handle early departures?


Block, Peter (2009). Community: The structure of belonging. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Leading Like Norman Rockwell

file 7Let’s face it, if you are not being criticized, you are not leading and guiding the organization to grow, innovate and explore endless possibilities. Criticism is a natural part of leadership. If no one is criticizing your leadership – you are not leading correctly. This was also true of one of America’s greatest artists, Norman Rockwell. In Lesson #28, “The Dream Post,” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader, author John Parker Stewart points out how Norman Rockwell was sharply criticized by fellow artists. They called his art too simplistic and predictable. Some peers would not even recognize him as an artist. Well, we know the rest of the story and the great inspiration his art brought to our country at great times of need and is still bringing to us today.img_0674-2

Just like Norman Rockwell, as you find success in your leadership journey, some people will try to take you down. The leaches and loafers that are envious of your success may attempt to slow down your momentum. This is actually a sign that you are on the right path. As Stewart reminded us, we will be tempted to seek the approval of the so called “expert” critics. We need to shut this down, however, and make sure we are following our passions and dreams.

“Our best success comes when we are true to ourselves.” ~ John Parker Stewart

While we do not want the critics to control us, we mustn’t forget, however, the most effective leaders listen to critics as a means of acquiring helpful feedback to improve their personal and organizational performance. Great leaders value the diversity of others’ opinions as a resource, not a threat. This does not mean compromising core values, passions, and dreams. Take time to reflect on what you’ve learned. If the criticisms and suggestions are valid, adjust your decisions and actions accordingly.

Finally, we need to remember, there are two types of criticism – constructive and destructive – learning to recognize the difference between the two can help you deal with any criticism you may receive. It’s really pretty easy to distinguish between the two. Constructive criticism, is provided to point out our mistakes, but also show us where and how improvements can be made. Conversely, destructive criticism is often just thoughtlessness by another person, and can be deliberately malicious and hurtful. So, in the words of John Parker Stewart, “As you pursue your dreams, don’t give way to critics who enjoy tearing others down. Be true to yourself and your own happiness.” In other words don’t compromise your core values and dreams for some critic.

Are you being constructive with others?

Are You Leading Like A Rock Star?

Myles Kennedy & I in Nashville

Today, listening to everyone sing hymns, I was struck at how easy it is to follow along with the music. Then I thought of how hard it is to follow along with a rock band. This is particularly hard where the vocals have been removed, like in karaoke. I discovered part of the reason is that at church the pianist is playing the melody for us, and we just follow along. I like this and it is important to the church service. Whereas when listening to a rock band, the lead singer is the melody. This was driven home to me when I was present for Alter Bridge’s sound check last fall in Nashville, Tennessee. When Myles Kennedy was singing it sounded exactly like what we hear on a cd, but when he wasnt it sounded entirely different. He was singing the melody notes without any exact accompaniment. That’s why it is so hard to take his voice out and sing the song the same – I think. Remember, I am not a music expert.

Here is a link to my video of the sound check:  Show Me A Leader Take a listen and I think you will see what I mean. It would be very tough to sing Show Me A Leader without Myles singing with us. Click here to see the in-concert version. 

The catch is that when singing in our vehicle to our favorite rock band, we are always singing along with another singer. We get all our cues from that singer’s voice. When I’ve listened to instrumental versions of songs I know, I recognize them, of course, but don’t always know where the singing part would come in. I mean sometimes I can tell, like for a really obvious chorus or something, but especially for the verses, and especially for songs where there isn’t an instrument playing the singing melody, I can’t automatically hear where to come in when singing.

So, let’s compare this to leadership. As leaders we need to remember that we are singing the lead and need to make sure that everyone in the organization is able to read the sheet music (understand the vision, mission, core values, and strategic plan of the organization). If you read music then it is simple to see where your cues are, or otherwise I suppose it would be listening to music and learning to count measures to determine when your cue is. As leaders, we need to provide the cues and teach our teams to read the music. Better yet, we need to sing along with them.

I am guessing it would be a lot easier if I had the sheet music for Show Me A Leader and learned at least the basics of written music. Like learning about time signatures, keys, tempos, and the various notes and rests. Learning just this much probably wouldn’t take very long, and I’d probably be amazed how useful it would be. So, we need to make sure and provide the personal growth opportunities to those we serve in our organizations to be able to read the “music,” so to speak. 

Having said all of this, however, we need to still be artful leaders. The great rock bands many times abandon traditional musical lyricism, tone, and articulation. Rock singing should be rather ambiguous in rhythm, lyrics, and pitch. That is the essence of hard rock. Just like leading the transformation of an organization may not be so abstract. 

If we think of our organization as a rock band (who wouldn’t want to do that?), then we need to model professionalism. Someone might be a brilliant songwriter (leader) and have lots of great ideas, but a good band member becomes an amazing band member if he or she is also on time, respectful, organized and prepared.

Relationships matter. It appears many rock bands break up over this relationship piece, as is the case on many organizations and teams. Just like in a relationship, each person’s expectations and needs should be discussed. Remember that each musician (team member) brings his or her own expertise, talents, ideas, personal goals and passions, so let that flourish. If someone feels taken for granted, unappreciated or overworked, resentment might build up and affect the music and performances. On the other hand, if members of our organizations believe they are valued and appreciated as individuals, they will be amped up to bring positive energy and ideas to the group.  

I’ve always thought that the great rock bands were not afraid to fail. Being an artist means trying new things, iterating, and sometimes throwing away in order to find the one great thing. The creative process is a vulnerable experience. When we’re working as a group to create new material (products) or learn new songs (processes), there will inevitably be moments of imperfection. As leaders we need to encourage experimentation and the idea of failing quickly, to find out what works, or that next hit song. 

Ultimately, it’s up to the leader(s) (remember, I believe everyone is a leader), in concert (you catching my play on words here) with everyone in the organization to visualize, communicate the concepts and determine what needs to be done to materialize that vision.

Are you leading like a rock star? 

Great Leaders Listen To Understand

file 6Today as I was going to get feed for our dairy cows I was listening to Sirius XM Hair Nation. Remember, I was in high school in the 70’s and college in the 80’s, so I still love the hair bands today. Don’t forget, KISS, is the greatest of all! But, I have digressed… While listening, the host at the time, Keith Roth, made a great comment: “We no longer listen for understanding. We listen to respond.” This is so true and reminded me that great leaders must listen to understand. And… of course I immediately tweeted the quote – you can follow me at @ByronErnest.

The quality of our listening determines the quality of our influence, and that brings huge benefits to our organizations. Research says we only retain about 25 percent of what we hear – why? because we lack listening skills. First, and foremost, we need to all start listening to understand. The good news is that we can learn to be a better listener and significantly increase our retention. There are principles and practices that can help us be intentional, purposeful, and conscientious when listening and that will make a huge difference with the spirit of our team members.file 4

By listening to others with an empathetic ear, by putting ourselves in their shoes, and by maintaining an open mind, we develop a culture of enthusiastic and energetic teamwork. Our conscious listening, which is listening to understand and learn, is our gift to others. I am a firm believer that if I am talking I am not learning – I think someone important said that one time and has been quoted, but I can’t remember who.

Listening is a very critical role of leadership. Listening may be the single most powerful action the leader can take. Leaders will always be under pressure to speak, but if building social fabric is important, and sustained transformation is the goal, then listening becomes the greater service.  As a leader, I am working very hard to be a convener and practice conversational leadership. Conversational leadership is a cornerstone in the effort to redefine the relationship between the ourselves and our organization’s internal and external stakeholders.

Listening needs to be the action step that replaces responding, solving, defending ourselves, and responding. Listening, understanding at a deeper level than is being expressed, is the action that enables leaders to convene great conversations. This means we have to change the nature of our listening.

If we truly want to learn to listen to understand we must become conversational leaders in all aspects of our life and work to enable authentic dialogue that makes a difference toward positive outcomes. I believe if we listen to understand more and practice conversational leadership we will find our teams don’t need a whole lot of training, new materials, or stuff in order to have productive dialogue, team meetings, or professional learning communities; they just need the focused time to talk together and discover what they already know about what they are doing and about what needs to be different.

How can we begin to cultivate both the organizational infrastructures and personal leadership capabilities that are needed to shift the trend of listening to respond to one of listening to understand?




Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 6.57.35 AMThe following is an original blog post, based on lessons and concepts in Worline and Dutton’s book, Awakening Compassion at Work.

Monica C. Worline

Jane E. Dutton

When we were first studying compassion at work, our colleague Peter Frost published a paper entitled Why Compassion Counts. It was the first in its field to make a case for the study of compassion in business. “We need theory and research that improve our ability to connect with our fellow beings,” Peter wrote. “As students of organizations and organizational life, if we don’t build notions of empathy, of concern for the inhabitants of the world we study, who will?”

Almost 20 years have passed. If Peter were alive today, we think he’d be thrilled with the response to his call to action. Researchers and scholars around the globe are exploring, theorizing, and building more elaborate understandings of compassion at work. We also think he’d love our book Awakening Compassion at Work, which pulls together much of what we’ve learned in a form that makes it easy to put to practical use in all kinds of organizations.

There’s a lot going on in the science of compassion. We wanted to highlight three research findings you might not have heard, but they offer new insights into why compassion counts.


Sometimes it’s easy to focus exclusively on the recipients of compassion as its beneficiaries. We can easily grasp that people receiving donated meals are probably benefiting from compassion. What we don’t grasp as easily is that those of us who witness compassion also gain from it.

In one of our studies, we found that just seeing a group of people organize compassion for colleagues at work generated the same effects as those who participated in offering or receiving the compassion. Witnessing compassion changes how much of ourselves we are willing to bring to work, how we see our coworkers, and how we see our organizations. Sociologist and theologian Robert Wuthnow echoes this point when he writes that “compassion enriches us and ennobles us, even those of us who are neither the care givers nor the recipients, because it holds forth a vision of what good society can be.”


The hospitality industry is growing. Hotels, restaurants, resort destinations, and experience providers make up more of our economy. But service quality and hospitality are also essential in health care, education, social services, and community-based organizations where helping people feel welcome and included is a key to successful outcomes.

Compassion researchers Pablo Zoghbi-Manrique-de-Lara and Ria Guerra-Baez show that employees in the hospitality industry are likely to be especially tuned into one another’s suffering. They are arranged in close work teams and they perform highly interdependent tasks. These teams require one another’s full support in order to create the desired customer experience, including detecting and responding to suffering. Coworkers compassionate support for one another is essential to creating excellence in service and hospitality.


In a study of 18 organizations that had engaged in downsizing, across 16 different industries, the extent to which employees characterized their organizations as compassionate correlated with more resilient profitability. The more compassionate organizations also kept more customers through the downturn. Other studies have found the same link between compassion and the ability to engage and retain clients. When people feel cared for as part of their work culture, they are more able to adapt and bounce back and that helps their organizations adapt and bounce back as well.


Monica Worline, PhD, is CEO of EnlivenWork. She is a research scientist at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and Executive Director of CompassionLab, the world’s leading research collaboratory focused on compassion at work.

Jane Dutton, PhD, is the Robert L. Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration and Psychology and cofounder of the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. She has written over 100 articles and published 13 books, including Energize Your Workplace and How to Be a Positive Leader. She is also a founding member of the CompassionLab.

Their new book, Awakening Compassion at Work, available now on Amazon, reveals why opening our eyes to the power of compassion is smart business.