Byron's Babbles

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.

Lead By Telling The Truth

Nicolle Wallace & I

I had the honor and opportunity last night to personally meet and hear Nicolle Wallace speak. Nicolle is a bestselling author, political analyst for MSNBC, and former co-host of ABC’s “The View.” And, I would add, great speaker! She keynoted our opening joint dinner for the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). On my side, as a NASBE member, this opened our annual Legislative Conference. 

Let me tell you, I was mezmarrized by her comments. In her many meaningful phrases she made one that hit me like a ton of bricks. She said, “If you want others to tell you the truth, you need to tell them the truth.” Think about that. What wold the world be like if we all put this in practice. 

Powerful leadership is needed in America today and the world to deal effectively with a broad range of challenges. History, however, is full of examples of leaders that lacked character to sustain trust and credibility with the public. Good character and integrity, basically telling the truth, are the solid foundation of great leadership. Failure of leadership today is not the absence of competence or skills, but simply sustaining credibility and integrity with people. Character is a rare commodity now adays. Our culture has produced few enduring leaders, few people with leadership integrity.

Great leaders must demonstrate the right virtues to lead effectively. Nicolle said, “we must all take responsibility for our power.” We must demonstrate honesty, humility, authenticity, credibility, courage and accountability. Thanks Nicolle for reminding me that the most important leadership virtue is integrity.

Leadership Toy Story

fileIt all started a couple of weeks ago with a comment made during the Friday night dinner of our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) when Executive Chef Nick Townsend of Ulen Country Club made the comment that we must lead like Mr Potato Head® in that we have to change and adapt just like the pieces of a Mr. Potato Head® toy. This really resonated with me and made me think about the difference between this adaptation and compromising core values. There is a difference – adaptive leadership is not about compromising core values, but about adapting to circumstances, thus enabling your core values. file1 3

file 2Of course all FLA members knew the instant they heard the Mr. Potato Head® reference that it would become a through line for a future FLA leadership retreat – and, it did! Little did I know just how powerful this toy would be to our journey of leadership journey. I decided to use a toy through line for our retreat this weekend. We used Mr. Potato Head®, Play-Doh®, and Legos®. These were incredible examples to use for leadership reflection, training, and professional growth. As you know, I use a non-traditional form of agendas for the weekend and have attached the agenda that reflects the learning arc for the weekend as the featured image for this post.

41XhiUsxovL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In order to plan this past weekend I used the guiding question of: What leadership lessons can be learned from the toys you loved as a child? I also went back to a great book that I read some time ago: Toy Box Leadership: Leadership Lessons From The Toys You Loved As a Child. In this great book characteristics of successful leaders are identified by Hunter & Waddell and compared to toys we have all played with. I have found the toy box a great place for lessons to successfully influence and lead others. Here is the list:
  • Legos – Relationships
  • Slinky Dog – Vision
  • Play Doh – Mentoring
  • Yo-Yo – Creativity
  • Mr. Potato Head – Communication
  • Rubik’s Cube – Ethics
  • Rocking Horse – Efficiency
  • Lite Brite – Illuminate to Communicate
  • Weebles – Endurance
  • Green Army Men – Strategy

You will find in my next two posts that the leadership lessons are not limited to what are listed above. In fact there will be a list of graphically recorded lessons about Legos® and Mr. Potato Head® in my next two posts. People love following leaders whose hearts are fueled by passion. Interestingly, I believe that passion in leaders can be fueled by toys. Just think of the feelings and memories that are spurred when thinking of toys that you had in your toy box as a child. So, here is my challenge question: What was your favorite toy growing up and what leadership skills did you learn from it?


Hunter, Jr. , Ronald & Waddell, Michael E. (2008). Toy box leadership: Leadership lessons from the toys you loved as a child. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Making Better Decisions

Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 7.48.15 PM

Graphic Recording By Sita Magnuson of one of our Focused Leader Academy Sessions

I am so proud to host this guest post from Mark Miller on the eave of launching his latest book, Leaders Made Here. This post was originally published on

A leader’s impact, career, reputation and legacy are all determined by the decisions he or she makes. Up and coming leaders often ask me: How do you make better decisions?

Have you given much thought to this question? My hunch is that you and I may not think enough about how we make decisions. If you’ve been leading long, it can become instinctive or reflexive. You just do it – no thought required. Some would label this unconsciously competent. Isn’t that what you want? To be able to respond instinctively without thinking.

You might think the same thing about world-class athletes. Surely, they don’t think about what they do – as Nike advocates, they Just Do it! Right? Wrong. The very best athletes are the best students in their chosen field. Tiger and Phil from the world of golf, Aaron Rogers and Tom Brady from the NFL, Lebron James from the NBA, and the list could go on and on. Athletes at the top of their game are students of HOW they do what they do. They watch the video over and over again to sharpen their skills.

When it comes to decision-making, some thoughtful time invested can have the same effect. We can get better at the most critical activity we engage in as a leader. The athlete that doesn’t refine his or her skills is called an amateur. The leader that doesn’t grow in their decision-making abilities is called average.

How can we get better at making decisions? Here are a few ideas to jumpstart your thinking.

Learn from the past – Have you ever done an analysis of your decision-making? How’s your batting average? How often do you get it right? How often do you miss the mark? What patterns exist? Do you make better decisions when others are involved? How often do you follow your instincts – your gut? What have others done? What has worked in the past?

Wait until it matters – Don’t make decision early. Things change. Find out when a decision must be made. Make it then. One of the first questions I ask when confronted with a major decision: When is the latest we can reach a decision? Use the time before the due date to think, consider alternatives and get input from others. You miss some, or all of this, if you decide prematurely. Also, if you decide early, there’s more time for second-guessing. The real challenge in most cases is not the decision anyway – the REAL CHALLENGE is execution. Decide and then move quickly to action.

Value principles over rules – Principles are universally applicable and require judgment. Rules remove the need for judgment and often yield a sub-optimum outcome. A short list of principles to aide in decision-making can be extremely helpful. Here are a few examples to consider as you create your own short list:

The closer the decision-maker is to the actual work the better.

The level to which a decision rises in the organization should always be in proportion to its relative impact, risk or cost.

Clarity on decision-making roles increases the chances of a good outcome and a timely decision.

Different decisions warrant different approaches – one size does not fit all (e.g., Consultative, Consensus, Command, Delegated).

If you want to improve your golf game or your serve in tennis, you focus on it. You can do the same with your decision-making. You get to decide.


Mark Miller is the best-selling author of 6 books, an in-demand speaker and the Vice C26DyQIUQAAnQAQPresident of High-Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A. His latest book, Leaders Made Here, describes how to nurture leaders throughout the organization, from the front lines to the executive ranks and outlines a clear and replicable approach to creating the leadership bench every organization needs.

Leaders Must Be Schooled

screen-shot-2017-03-05-at-5-23-10-pmGiven the high rate of leadership turnover in many fields nationwide, finding ways to provide leaders with the experience they need quickly is paramount. This is very true in my own area of educational leadership. What makes leadership so challenging is that it is rife with painful trade-offs that make decisions difficult under the best of circumstances. What’s more, leaders are faced with a group of stakeholders—vendors, customers, students, teachers, parents, communities, local, state, and federal government—whose competing demands can make it impossible to satisfy the needs of one group without dramatically upsetting another. By developing adaptive leadership skills we can get help our leaders improve decision making at times of crisis, benefiting, in my particular context, both the school culture and ultimately, student outcomes.

Because of the many stakeholders involved in leadership, leadership is dangerous because we are rarely authorized to lead. We all operate within a limited scope of authority. Opportunities for exercising leadership do not depend on position. Since I believe everyone is a leader, leadership can come from any place within or even outside the organization. With adaptive leadership we need to help those we serve understand that leadership often involves challenging people to live up to their words, to close the gap between their espoused values and their actual behavior. Leadership often entails finding ways to enable people to face up to frustrating realities.

It is important to recognize the difference between technical challenges and adaptive challenges. Technical challenges may be complex but an expert can usually solve – like fixing a car that won’t run or a website glitch. Conversely, adaptive challenges do not lie in technical answers, but in the leader. The technician can fix the car, but he can’t make the owner do the regular service to keep it running. This would be an adaptive leadership challenge. Most social issues are adaptive. They are not resolved with a logical argument. This is what makes my field of education so challenging. This also why there is such a great need to school our leaders.

Successful leaders in any field tend to emphasize personal relationships. These relationships are a tenant of adaptive leadership. Again, with adaptive leadership we are asking people to close the distance between their espoused values and their actual behavior. This kind of leadership can come from anywhere in the organization and can fashion new and better responses to local realities. Are you schooling your leaders?


Feel And Become Real

screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-9-51-41-pmI was exposed today to an essay by E. E. Cummings entitled “A Poet’s Advice” that really caused me to reflect on the understanding of what it means to feel and be real. This essay teaches us to reason and act only on the basis of direct personal experience. Cummings wanted to be a poet from childhood and wrote poetry daily from the age of 8 to 22, exploring assorted forms. He went to Harvard University and developed an interest in modern poetry which ignored conventional grammar and syntax, aiming for a dynamic use of language. Here is the essay:

A Poet's Advice
A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words. 
This may sound easy, but it isn't. 
A lot of people think or believe or know they feel -- but that's thinking or 
believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling -- not knowing or believing or 
Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being 
can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, 
you're a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you're nobody-but-yourself. 
To be nobody-but-yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make 
you everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; 
and never stop fighting. 
As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder 
than anybody who isn't a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as 
easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the 
time - and whenever we do it, we are not poets. 
If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you 
find you've written one line of one poem, you'll be very lucky indeed. 
And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something 
easy, like learning how to blow up the world -- unless you're not only willing, but glad, 
to feel and work and fight till you die. 
Does this sound dismal? It isn't. 
It's the most wonderful life on earth. 
Or so I feel. 
~ E.E. Cummings

The poet E. E. Cummings advised students in this essay that the most important piece of advice he can give is to “learn how to feel.” He says that any old person can learn to think or to know. He implies that “thinking” and “knowing” do not make a person unique because what we think we know is nothing more than what other people think and know. If you learn how to feel, that is real — the rest is phony.

In this essay Cummings also taught us that it is really hard to learn how to feel, and that anyone can learn how to know or believe. Learning how to know and believe is just copying the ideas of others. Those of us that can learn to feel, however, are unique because our feelings are what sets us apart from others. Our feelings are uniquely ours, not someone  else.

How Can You Explode Debilitating Beliefs That Create a False and Undesirable Workplace Reality?

share_08I’m so excited to host this guest post from Susan Fowler. This post was originally published on on 11/03/2015.

Let’s start with a little fill-in-the-blanks pop quiz. Finish these sentences:

A. It’s not personal, it’s just ________.

B. The purpose of business is to _____ _______.

C. Leaders are in a position of __________.

I’m betting you were successful.

These sentences are beliefs—beliefs so embedded in our collective psyche that everyone can fill in the blanks.

These beliefs are all about business, money, profit, and power. Beliefs create our reality at work: Beliefs become the values that permeate the

  • decisions executives make
  • basis for how we allocate resources and designate priorities
  • rules, regulations, and systems we work by
  • goals and metrics that drive our behavior
  • way we treat employees

Here’s the kicker: these beliefs are not even true.

The science of motivation provides evidence that these beliefs are false, erroneous, unwise, and debilitating. These are not people-centered beliefs but debilitating beliefs that distort what’s real, natural, and good.

Without our awareness, these debilitating beliefs have become our reality—a false reality that makes it almost impossible for people to thrive at work.

One of the great breakthroughs in motivation science is the discovery that our basic human nature is to thrive. Nobody wants to be bored or disengaged. All of us desire meaningful challenges. We want to contribute, feel fulfilled, and grow and learn every day. No matter what our age or situation, we want to thrive.

In the most groundbreaking research in the history of motivation, we now understand how to promote thriving through three psychological needs: Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence—or what we refer to as ARC.

The first psychological need is Autonomy. Autonomy is people’s need to perceive they have choices. People at work need to feel that they have choices; that they are the source of their actions. The opposite of autonomy at work? Pressure.

The second psychological need is Relatedness. Relatedness is people’s need to care about and be cared about by others without ulterior motives. Relatedness also plays out when people feel they are contributing to a greater good, or that the company cares about them by being just and fair. The opposite of relatedness at work? Goals driven by metrics without meaning.

The third psychological need is Competence. Competence is people’s need to grow, learn, and become more effective at meeting everyday challenges and opportunities. The opposite of competence at work? A day without growing and learning.

When people’s needs for Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence are satisfied, the result is high-quality motivation—or optimal motivation. When ARC is undermined, people experience low-quality motivation—or suboptimal motivation.

To start exploding debilitating beliefs, stop asking if people are motivated and start asking why people are motivated. People are always motivated. What matters most to the quality of their experience is the quality of their motivation—the reason they are motivated.

  • Does money motivate? Yes.
  • Does pressure motivate? Yes.
  • Do power and status motivate? Yes and yes.

promo_02But these reasons for motivation undermine people’s experience of their basic psychological needs. When people are motivated by money, pressure, power, or status, they are not satisfying their needs for Autonomy, Relatedness, or Competence. These reasons for motivation reflect low-quality, suboptimal motivation.

High-quality motivation is based on values, purpose, and joy. When people are motivated for higher-level reasons they not only experience Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence, but are able to sustain that positive energy over time.

People thrive through high-quality optimal motivation. When people thrive, they are more productive, creative, innovative, mentally and physically healthy, and have a greater sense of well-being. Optimal motivation leads to the positive intentions and behavior that fuel employee engagement and employee work passion.

Optimal Motivation holds the key for exploding debilitating beliefs and replacing them with people-centered beliefs that get real and sustainable results.

  • Explode the debilitating belief: It’s not personal, it’s just business and replace it with the people-centered belief: If it’s business, it’s personal. Here’s the truth: What leaders say and do feels personal to the people they lead.
  • Explode the debilitating belief: The purpose of business is to make money (a profit) and replace it with the people-centered belief: The purpose of business is to serve. Here’s the truth: An organization’s higher purpose is to serve its community, its customers, and its employees. Profit is a by-product of doing these well.
  • Explode the debilitating belief: Leaders are in a position of power and replace it with the people-centered belief: Leaders are in a position of empowering others. Here’s the truth: Despite all their power, leaders cannot motivate anyone. What they can do is learn how to activate people’s optimal motivation and then teach individuals the skill of motivation so they can experience high-quality motivation anytime and anywhere they choose.

If we explode debilitating beliefs and replace them with people-centered beliefs grounded in optimal motivation, we will create a different workplace reality—a reality where we nurture people’s natural desire to be productive and thrive.


Susan Fowler implores leaders to stop trying to motivate people. In her latest bestselling book, she explains WHY MOTIVATING PEOPLE DOESN’T WORK… AND WHAT DOES: The New Science of Leading, Engaging, and Energizing. She is the author of by-lined articles, peer-reviewed research, and six books, including the bestselling Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager with Ken Blanchard. Tens of thousands of people worldwide have learned from her ideas through training programs such as the Situational Self Leadership and Optimal Motivation product lines. For more resources, including a free Motivational Outlook Assessment with immediate results, visit

Leadership Story Reflections

file-3This is the final post of a four post series reflection on this past weekend’s retreat of our Focused Leader Academy (FLA). The first in the series was Feeding Leadership. Click here to read the second in the series, Leadership Breakfast Story. Yesterday, I posted the third in the series, Telling Your Leadership Story. If you read those posts you will realize what and incredible journey this past weekend was. To give a quick recap; we started Friday night by learning fro an Executive Chef how to tell a story with a meal. Then Saturday morning Mike Fleisch and I modeled this by cooking breakfast for the group and telling the story of our journey together. The highlight of the weekend, though, was when our FLA members were turned loose to plan, organize, and execute a breakfast to tell of their journey as teacher leaders and about the school. This was a total success and this post is about the reflection session of the FLA members afterward.

For this reflection we used a technique call the “Fish Bowl.” To do this, a circle of chairs is made in the number of participants minus the number of groups used to complete the activity. In this case here were three groups, so three chairs were placed in the middle (see picture in this post of setup). One person from each group then sits in the middle and are the only ones that can talk. If you have something to say after the original three have had a chance to speak, then you can get up and tap the person from your group and take their seat in the middle. This can go on for as long as someone has something to say. It is also a best practice to have prompts to help get the discussion going. Here are the prompts we used:file-2The graphic recording of this session, included below, from Mike Fleisch does a great job of reflecting the richness of the discussion, but I wanted to point out a few of the highlights. One of the comments that really struck me and that I had not thought about was that the planning, organizing, and executing of the story through a meal was a great 360° evaluation. 360° feedback has been around for some time now. In case you haven’t gone through the process, here’s how it works. Your boss, your direct reports, and your peers give you feedback on what are your strengths and weaknesses (or “developmental needs” or “opportunities”). Therefore, you get feedback from everyone around you who knows you well — hence, you’re hearing it from 360° around you. When it’s done well, 360° programs allow all your team members to improve in key areas that might be limiting their upward career path or actually causing major conflict within a team.

This discussion was around the fact that they were all able to see their own personalities come out and the personalities of those on their team. Additionally, the ways in which each individual changed in conditions of shared urgency. One participant said, “I feel like I left out the organization step and rushed too much.” Another participant admitted to thinking, “If you all would just shut up, I will lead you!” There was a great deal of self reflection going on during this part of the discussion. I realized just how effective this activity was as a 360° tool – much better than a survey done by someone else in my opinion.

Another point that came out was when someone said, “Sometimes it is hard to think about giving up another Saturday, but I for sure do not want to miss these retreats.” Obviously, that was music to my ears, but it is an important concept that is worth mentioning. We should always have at the forefront of anything we plan the idea that we want to design it in such a way that no one will want to miss it. In other words a participant should feel as if there is too much great stuff going on and content being learned to miss. Here is the graphic recording of the rest of the discussion:fileAs you can see this was a tremendous experience for all of our teacher leaders. I come away from each of these weekends inspired and rejuvenated. There is so much energy in these young leaders and we must continue to take the time to give them the development experiences they deserve. What experiences are you providing for your up and coming leaders?

Telling Your Leadership Story


Dr. McCormick (10th from left) With Our Focused Leader Academy Participants

This is the third and most exciting in a series of four blog posts documenting the journey of our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) participants learning to tell leadership stories using food as the through line this past weekend. Click here to read the first post, Feeding Leadership. Click here to read the second post, Leadership Breakfast Story.

fileAfter breakfast and the sharing session on the learning from our meal at Ulen Country Club it was time to explain why in addition to the normal fresh flowers, crayons, markers, fresh fruit, and butcher paper there was a $100 bill taped to the tables. I explained it was now their, FLA participants, turn to plan a meal in order to tell a story. My instructions were to prepare a meal that had an appetizer, main course, and dessert that told the story of their journey as a teacher leader and of our school. I gave these instructions at 9:30 am and told them the meal would be at 12 noon. I also told them to plan as if they would have some type of government official present to tell the story to. A few questions ensued, but for the most part they got started.

It was amazing to watch the process unfold. Different leadership styles emerged. Some went straight to doing, others to planning. Others began developing the story. Then about 30 minutes in they all began to check on each other. The appetizer and main course groups realized they were developing along the same story lines of “selling the steak and not the sizzle” and “under fire.” Quickly, they all all came to the conclusion to use a Mexican food theme and serve fajitas.

file1In normal form for me, I then added two last pieces to the design sprint. I told them they could get another $100 through a non competitive automatic grant (I called it the LWFS Grant – Leading With Food Stories Grant) if they wanted it. One group applied and received the grant, but in the end did not use it. This caused a great discussion about budgeting, having too much money, and being able to move the money where it was needed. My philosophy is to have as few buckets in a budget as possible. This way money can be used where it is needed the most to make strategy reality. Also, we talked about that with less buckets we eliminate the trap of people/departments spending money just because they have it. This was a great philosophical discussion and real world budget lesson for our teacher leaders and future school leaders.

The other new wrinkle I added was that there really would be a government official in attendance. I had arranged for our Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Jennifer McCormick, to be in attendance to have lunch with our teacher leaders and hear there journey told through food and a meal. My only regret was not having a camera ready or a video going when I told them, because it was truly an “Oh Shit!” moment. The look on their faces said, “Oh Shit, this is really happening. We have an hour and a half!” I laughed because their theme of “under fire” was coming true and very appropriate. We all know that leaders grow leaders. This why I have taken it as my personal charge to develop, grow, and improve our Focused Leader Academy. Remember my rules for learning: For accelerated leadership growth we must create an environment where our developing leaders experience fear, excitement, anxiety, and experimentation. This design sprint of preparing a meal to tell a story really did this. For rapid growth we must create real time, real work experiences of:

  • Fear
  • Excitement
  • Worry
  • Anticipation
  • Terror
  • Thrill
  • Anxiety
  • Experimentation
  • Risk
  • Possibility

Additionally, I watched in amazement as one group proceeded to clean and make sure the convening space was just right. They went and got table clothes, bulletin board materials, and everything else needed to make our commons area perfect for the event. I was so impressed because I really hadn’t thought anything about that.

When asked why I was so calm, I told them I had total faith in them and the only piece I had to worry about was whether Dr. McCormick would show up on time, call in sick, or forget. I was not expecting any of those, but you never know. As I expected, Dr. McCormick showed up about 10 minutes prior to the start time for lunch. My part was done!

file2As for lunch…It was perfect! I am so proud of our FLA members. They planned the perfect lunch menu in buffet style. They had set up and decorated three tables for eating and visiting. The appetizer group went with Dr. McCormick first through the buffet line for appetizers and then had her sit with them and they explained the story they were telling with the appetizers. They then ate the appetizers and visited. Then it was the main course team’s turn to go through the buffet line with her for fajitas, tell their food story, and visit while eating at their table. Then, last but certainly not least, since they were serving Gigi’s Cupcakes and ice cream, the dessert team used the same format as the other teams. Again, and I know I am biased and sort of like the proud papa here, it was PERFECT!file3

For more details, a picture really is worth a thousand words. I am going to let the graphic recordings that Mike Fleisch did during the three courses of the meal fill in the details of the discussion. Here they are:

file-1file1-1file2-1After the meal and great discussion we gave Dr. McCormick the opportunity to say a few words or reflect. She spoke of how great it was to learn about our school and our development program for teacher leaders. She spoke of how education goes both ways – in other words, is all about learning from each other. Dr. McCormick also invited our FLA members to get involved on her advisory committees. Finally, she left the group with three very important and inspiring points:

  1. Be nice!
  2. Work hard!
  3. Be amazing!

Here is Mike Fleisch’s graphic recording of her comments:

file3-1As you can see, this was quite the event. In my next blog post entitled Leadership Story Reflections, I will capture the group’s thoughts and emotions after the meal.