Byron's Babbles

The Paradox of Staying In Your Lane

Mike Fleisch Graphic Recording of Our Discussion

Have you ever been challenged or, as a leader, challenged someone else to stay in their own lane? Whether your mind conjured up a football analogy or lanes on an interstate, you got the message: Quit trying to lead everyone else’s area, and focus on yours. This really is a paradox, though.

Think about it, because perhaps you heard or have given a different message in a different meeting when the leader, or you, told the team, “Everyone must help get this done. We all must own this.” So, as leaders, what is the right message or best practice? I would argue, we must do both. 

This past weekend at one of our task force meetings we got into a lengthy discussion about this paradox. While we know that it is the most efficient thing to have everyone in their own lane, we know that somtimes this just doesn’t work. Here are reasons it doesn’t always eke to stay in our own lanes:

  • Individuals have not been trained properly to do the work of his lane.
  • Individuals do not have the resources to do the scope of the work of her lane.
  • Individuals do not have team to do the work of her lane.
  • Individuals become overly concerned with everyone else’s position, you may jeopardize playing well in your own lane. 
  • Individualized become overly dependent on others to the point that they do your work for you. Then, you are not serving the whole well.

I believe we must own our own areas, including your realm of responsibility. If you are a leader, you have been given responsibility for a team, and no one should outpace you in passion or concern for the area you lead and steward. If we want to lead the whole, we first lead and be a steward of our lane exceedingly well. Then we will have the respect and be invited into other lanes. 

But, let’s not forget the paradox, a great team pulls together in the same direction and shoulders these initiatives together. Therefore, the answer here is to spend most of our time in our own lane, but when needed we can visit other lanes. For this to work, though, we need to make sure our team members are trained properly, have the skills necessary, and understand the nuances of working in other lanes. 

Do you and your team understand how to navigate the paradox of staying in your lane?

Widening The Circle

I believe widening our circle of stakeholder/community involvement is crucial to informing our most important decisions. We must identify all the participants who need to be a part of our circle for creation. By using a diverse mix of people, we can create a “maximum mix” of ideas. 

Diversity of thought yields richer insights and discoveries. Collective insight evolves from: 

  1. Honoring unique contributions.
  2. Connecting ideas.
  3. Noticing deeper patterns and questions.

If we widen our circle and invite a diverse group to collaborate, the knowledge and wisdom we need will already be present and accessible. Intelligence emerges as the system connects itself in creative ways.  Encourage everyone to share their ideas and perspectives freely, and acknowledge that some people’s special contribution may be their presence as attentive listeners.

Another advantage of widening the circle is the ability to surface differences of opinion and understanding; this is part of their ability to generate new insights. I believe differences can foster either energy and excitement. A critical task of leadership is to protect space for the expression of people’s differences. When differences in opinion are truly valued, they become the object of genuine curiosity. 

Is your circle wide enough?

The Five Thieves Of Happiness

The Five Thieves of HappinessThe Five Thieves of Happiness by John B. Izzo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this book readers will learn that “Life is not a contest.” Dr. Izzo teaches us that it is our craving for things to be different, not the circumstances that rob us of happiness. Because it is evolutionary that we have become collaborative; the real story of human progress is compassionate cooperation. We learn in this book that community change must begin in the heart of each of us. We also learn that we must become comfortable with being challenged by others’ beliefs. Craving for things to be different, not the circumstances robs us of happiness. If we will but contribute to the good of the whole, happiness will find us. Happiness awaits from reading this book!

Dr. Byron L. Ernest

View all my reviews

Leaders Are Readers

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Mike Fleisch Graphic Of Our Leaders Are Readers Session

It goes without saying that “leaders are readers.” This past Saturday during our January Focused Leader Academy (FLA) we did a very cool activity. We all read a book in 45 minutes. I purchased copies of the last 16 books I have read and let our FLA participants pick a book to read and make their own. Here is the protocol we used:

How to Read a Book in 45 minutes

1. Read the introduction, carefully. A good intro will give you the book’s thesis,
clues on the methods and sources, and thumbnail synopses of each chapter.
Work quickly but take good notes. Allow fifteen minutes here.
2. Now turn directly to the conclusion and read that. The conclusion will reinforce
the thesis and have some more quotable material. In your notes write down 1-2
direct quotes suitable for using in a review. Ten minutes.
3. Turn to the table of contents and think about what each chapter likely contains.
Five minutes.
4. Skim 1-2 of what seem to be the key chapters. Look for something clever the
author has done with her or his evidence, memorable phrases, glaring
weaknesses–Fifteen minutes, max.
5. Meet some friends and tell them the interesting things you just learned,
speaking from the author’s point of view (driving it deeper it your memory).

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Great Books Our Teachers To Chose From

Here are the books that were available for selection:

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by  Robert D. Huffer

Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There: Ten Principles for Leading Meetings by Sandra Janoff

The Five Thieves of Happiness by John B. Izzo, Ph.D.

Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude M. Steele

The Art of Community: Seven Principles for Belonging by Charles Vogl

The World Cafe`: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter by Juanito Brown and David Isaacs

Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block

The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions and Results by Stephen Bungay

It’s My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and a Compelling Culture by Dee Ann Turner

Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas L. Friedman

Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and Systems by Michael Fullan

Learning in Action: A Guide to Putting the Learning Organization to Work by David A. Garvin

Killing The Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan by Bill O’Reilly

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

The Day The President Was Shot: The Secret Service, the FBI, a Would-Be Killer, and the Attempted Assassination of Ronald Reagan by Bill O’Reilly

The Hand In The Back of the Room: Connecting School Work to Real Life by Byron L. Ernest

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Needless to say, this activity was one of the favorites of participants. Even those who were skeptical really appreciated having the chance to be given a book and go through the protocol. You can see in the graphic of our +s and Δs discussion at the end of the day, that this session was one of the top rated. In fact you will notice in the video that one of those skeptics became a reader while doing this activity.

You will also see a plus on our +/Δ of “Live Tweeting/Periscope.” I live tweeted out the introduction to this activity as well as the report out from all participants using the hashtag #HoosierFLA. We had a large number of people watching live and were receiving several comments during the live tweet. Therefore, I am providing you the link to both videos.

Introduction to our “Leaders Are Readers” session:

https://www.periscope.tv/w/1YqKDAEqlMeGV?t=12s

“Go-Round” report-out from participants’ reading:

https://www.periscope.tv/w/1rmxPrAkbvVGN?t=2s

As you can see, leaders are readers. Are you tending to your own professional growth by reading? Are you supporting the professional growth of those you serve by encouraging reading?

Building S’more Leadership

Yesterday our Focused Leader Academy (FLA), aspiring teacher leaders, came into our commons area to find tables coevered in butcher paper with crayons (we’ll cover that in another post) and marshmallow manufacturing machines. Also on the tables were marshmallows, liquid chocolate, liquid caramel, strawberry sauce, chocolate sprinkles, chocolate chips, and sugar sprinkles. The title of our agenda for the day was “Building S’more Leadership.” The through line for the day was, of course, marshmallows.

Here Is What The Agenda For Our Day Looked Like

Participants were told upon arriving to make marshmallow creation that depicted their journey as a leader. This was a lot of fun to watch the creation begin. They were essentially building a model of their leadership journey. This gave us a chance to discuss where they were presently as a leader and what gifts and contributions they can bring to the table, as well as think futuristically about his/her personal direction as a leader. 

Mike Fleisch Graphic Of Our Discussion


In normal fashion, we circled our chairs and shared out upon completion of the creations. I was struck by the trust and openness we have developed in this community. Here are a couple of their stories that we live tweeted during the sharing:

https://www.periscope.tv/w/a1OJXDFlUkt4cVptcmRXand8MU93eFduUU9lUnFKUcSSjGb_qR4YH2oBtgn7aC2MFWd_Q-3h_A-Pf9pxtlnL

https://www.periscope.tv/w/a1OOqDFlUkt4cVptcmRXand8MWxQS3FSVm9FWlBHYmGFTZqVvCgrO6drSwwV-rdCp0drp54HGo6k3wiBUPWl

Leading A Community of Experimentation

Mike Fleisch Graphic of Our Marshmallow Challenge Discussion

Imagine a room with 15 aspiring teacher leaders, divided into five teams. Each team gets 20 sticks of spaghetti, a yard of string, a yard of masking tape, and a single marshmallow. They have 18 minutes to build a free-standing structure that will enable the marshmallow to rest on top. This is the so-called “marshmallow challenge”, a staple of many leadership trainings and design schools. It’s a great way to teach the benefits of rapid model-building and prototyping. Our team at Hoosier Academies used it in our January leadership development retreat yesterday of our Focused Leader Academy.

So, here is a generalization of what happened: They spent the first few minutes with someone establishing the leadership role, dominance, or trying really hard to be super collaborative. In a few teams’ cases one emergee as a leader. The next few minutes were devoted to planning. Construction began, usually with less than eight minutes left on the clock. Then, with about a minute to go, someone placed the marshmallow on top of the beautiful tower, and….it collapsed – failure. 

Kindergarteners and engineers do the best on this activity (see graph above). We decided that the kindergarteners win because kids don’t vacillate; they simply try something, and if it doesn’t work, they try again, and again, and again. Think about it… young children love to iterate. They are very curious. 

We concluded, in our post-challenge discussion (see picture for our Mike Fleisch graphic of the discussion), that engineers are good a this because they plan, build things, and are resourceful every day. In other words, engineers are quicker to understand how the spaghetti, tape, string, and marshmallow become a system together.

The big takeaway from our teams yesterday, however, was the idea of “failing quickly.” We are all familiar with the phrase “fail fast”, but what does that really mean? And how do you put it into practice? Failing fast isn’t about the big issues, it’s about the little ones. It’s an approach development and creation that embraces lots of little experiments and iterations with the mindset that some will work and grow and others will fail and die. And, that’s okay. 

Develop a community of experimentation, be willing to try stuff, do it quickly. But if it’s not working, be willing to fail fast and pivot.

Ain’t that a Kick in the Pants

Isn’t it funny how obvious and oblivious are so close? — Author unknown

So excited to host this guest post from Bill Treasurer about his great new book A Leadership Kick In The Ass

Sometimes leaders lose perspective on how they are performing and engaging with members of their team. In these instances, my work with leaders can involve inviting the leader’s direct reports to purposely kick him or her in the keister.

One of the most effective ways of doing this is having the leader go through a 360-degree feedback process, where the people they are leading rate the leader’s style and performance. The raters often include the leader him- or herself, as well as the leader’s boss(es), peers, and direct reports— hence a “360-degree” view.

The feedback uses an anonymous survey consisting of quantitative data and qualitative (open-ended) questions. The idea is that people are likely to give more honest answers if they don’t feel threatened that the leader will retaliate against them for their honesty. 

“A leader’s self-perception can be quite biased, so involving the broader perspective of others can be a useful development tool.” ~ Bill Treasurer 

While 360-degree surveys aren’t perfect, having administered hundreds of them over the years, I’ve seen them result in positive leadership change. Sometimes dramatically so.

To be sure, it takes courage to subject oneself to a leadership 360. The feedback can be raw and hurtful. In rare instances, raters will use the process as a way to get back at a leader they don’t like. But mostly the feedback is helpful, because it allows the leader to illuminate blind spots that may be blocking his or her effectiveness.

To make this exercise successful, leader have to loosen the grip on their need to be right or perfect and admit that they are the main source of their problems and ineffectiveness. This is the courage of capitulation, disarmament, and surrender. Your old ways have lost, and unless you adopt new ways of leading, you will continue to lose over and over again.

“What makes an ass kicking so painful (and useful) is that it shines a red-hot light on the parts of yourself that are holding you back and legitimately need development, often the aspects of yourself that you’d rather avoid or didn’t even know existed.” ~ Bill Treasurer

Think back to the last time you learned a lesson the hard way. How did you react? Did you make changes to become better and stronger? Or did you entrench yourself in the conviction of your rightness?

The journey to the center of one’s self is the most important voyage you’ll ever take. It’s how you become a whole person, truly knowing the full dimensions of your talents, idiosyncrasies, and deepest desires.

Fail Like A Champion

Failure and adversity in our lives can help us, not hurt us. It’s extremely important to never lose sight of this truth. The song “My Champion” by Alterbridge delivers an extremely inspiring message to those who might feel as if they aren’t good enough. Click here to check out my video of the song I made while in Nashville, Tennessee with the band. Here is my favorite line from the song that always keeps me going:

“You’ve lost so many times it hurts 

But failures made are lessons learned

Cause in the end what you are will be much more 

Than you were.” ~ Alterbridge – My Champion

To turn failure into a gift and grow through the tough times instead of just casually going through them, you must begin to start focusing on ways to actually resolve the situation. I think back to my childhood days of watching the original MacGyver show, and now in the new MacGyver – the character always looks for the solution, not at the problem. Many people let their minds wander toward the negative, which then prompts them to focus on more problems instead of searching for ways to resolve the situation and grow from it. 
Leaders and organizations that are able to get through tremendous setbacks and actually grow because of them are the ones who focus on solutions, not more problems. We can look to my hero, Thomas Edison, for a quick example. His persistence in continually searching for solutions after facing one failure after another is a prime example of the utter importance of focusing on ways to advance.

Looking for the solution is so crucial. Just staring at the problem is futile. Here are a few questions that can help keep us focused on developing solutions and not being focused on the problem/challelenge: 

  • How can we solve this task?
  • How can we address this problem?
  • What would be the first step to solve this problem?
  • What kind of preparations will be necessary for this task?

Discovery Has No Example

columbus_breaking_the_egg_christopher_columbus_by_william_hogarthI am super excited to bring you my first Byron’s img_0674-1Babbles vlog post. I have been wanting to do this and Lesson #26 in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart entitled “Blinded By An Egg” gave me the inspiration. This is a story about Christopher Columbus and I hope you are as inspired as I was. Here is the link to my vlog post: Byron’s Babbles: Discovery Has No Example

“Discovery has no example, no easy path to follow. Are you willing to see and follow unknown paths?” ~ John Parker Stewart

The Bear Facts of Leadership

indexEvery winner has a coach, and every coach has a philosophy. Lets take a deeper look inside the philosophy of one of the best. It is appropriate on this weekend before the National College Football Championship game between Alabama and Clemson to reflect on the leadership of Coach Bear Bryant. He had a keen instinct for what needed to be said and done, and a willingness to confront his present reality in order to make progress as a team. Bryant led his Alabama team to six national championships and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986. While Bryant drove many people away with his authoritarian coaching style, he had many players who stayed to become champions. Even with this authoritarian style, Bryant made it a point to take responsibility for what his team did on the field. Gene Stallings, who coached under Bryant said this of his leadership style: “His philosophy as far as players were concerned is that if the team was successful they did it, and if for some reason we lost, he took the blame for it.” Bear Bryant found that if he took responsibility for his team, they would respond by doing everything they could to make the team successful.

“I’m just a plow hand from Arkansas, but I have learned how to hold a team together. How to lift some men up, how to calm down others, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat together, a team. There’s just three things I’d ever say: If anything goes bad, – I did it. If anything goes semi-good, then we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.” ~ Bear Bryant

Lesson #25 entitled “Big Bear, Little Ego” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart tells the story of Bear Bryant when he was in the United States Navy and disobeyed an order to abandon ship to save shipmates – teammates. Bryant may have pushed them to extreme limits and beyond what they thought they were capable of, but he got the best out of them. The players understood that. And they knew that Bryant was committed to their success. That’s where the bond came from—they were all in it together. Some leaders claim they don’t care if they’re liked; they just want to be respected. Other leaders are well liked but not really respected. The unusual leader, the really good one, is respected and revered. It takes a unique balance in a person to inspire that kind of loyalty and admiration, but it can be done. Coach Bryant brought his teams together by focusing on a common goal. They worked together, survived together, and ultimately succeeded together. Remember, great leaders do not consider themselves more important than the team, but as a part of the team. Leaders merely have a different set of responsibilities.

“Ready! Down! Break! Hut! Hut! Hut!” Send a spiraling pass to your team!