Byron's Babbles

The Tension Of Spinning The Plates

Gem #2 was titled “An Action Deferred Is A Tension Retained” in the great book, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. I loved the metaphor he used for this gem of the circus act of spinning plates. In fact I used this same metaphor in my blog post My New Leadership Talent: Spinning Plates! The question really becomes paradoxical as to whether we should be spinning plates, or at the very least how many we should be spinning. The point of Stewart’s gem was that all of the tasks we have cause anxiety (tension) and we need to make sure and prioritize and not procrastinate.

“You are the willing and unwilling recipient of countless actions from work, home, school, and community. It can be overwhelming to process and complete all of these tasks, especially when you procrastinate or don’t prioritize. ~ John Parker Stewart

We all know how the plate spinning act works, right? The performer starts with one plate and once she gets it spinning, adds another, then another. At some point the performer has to back to the first plate and give it a spin to keep it going. Doesn’t this sound familiar in our day to day lives as leaders? The performance typically ends when one of two things happens – the performer runs out of plates, or he takes too much time adding a new plate to the rotation, and another plate slows down enough to wobble out of control and fall off the rod, crashing to the ground in a thousand pieces. Doesn’t this even sound more familiar?

A few things we need to remember. It’s much easier to start something than it is to keep it going. Therefore we need to think about what we start and can we and our team handle it. We have to achieve balance by spreading time across all the spinning plates. This means we need to think strategically about what we should be taking on. Then once started complete the task/project so that it does not become a wobbling plate and fall off the stick.

As a leader we must also keep our eye on all of the plates to avoid catastrophe. We don’t always need to be, and shouldn’t be, the one keeping all the plates spinning, but we do need to be watching to make sure the plates are still spinning. This is where I like to think about what do I have my hands “on” versus what do I have my hands “in”.

It’s a delicate balance, and I must tell you; I’m not very good at it at times. Each plate must spin fast enough but not too fast, and you have to pay enough attention to all but not too much to any particular one. So therefore we must continue to improve our ability to prioritize, enable others, and not procrastinate. How are you at spinning plates?


Share The Success

I hope we all realize the way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit for doing them. In fact, I recently blogged about this in Learning To Appreciate All Who Contribute To The Success while writing about one of my heroes, President Harry S. Truman. This again came up during a Principals training this past week and then again today when I started reading the great book, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. I love his books and love the fact it is written with 52 lessons. I am reading one per week and most times these will prompt blog posts like this one. Last year I read, 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader another great book by John Parker Stewart. This book was truly 52 lessons that made me think about my own leadership and how to practice continuous improvement and honing of those skills. This is a book that prompted reflection and thought on my own leadership style and that style’s impact on those I lead.

The first lesson in the book was entitled: “It’s amazing what can be accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit.” In this chapter, Stewart talked about how the need for personal recognition can become a stumbling block for a team’s success. Let’s face it, we are most fulfilled when we forget ourselves and focus on others.

“Victory is much more meaningful when it comes not from one person, but from the joint achievements of many. The euphoria is lasting when all participants lead with their hearts, winning not just for themselves but for one another.” ~ Howard Schultz

Here are some steps to sharing success:

  1. Listen
  2. Establish a clear and shared vision
  3. Lose your ego
  4. Share the workload (who is doing what?)
  5. Show appreciation to your colleagues
  6. Trust your teammates
  7. Strategize together
  8. Mentor your team
  9. Nurture your team
  10. Champion and cheerlead your team

Great leaders are able to lead from the back, empowering and motivating their team, which in turn leads to outstanding individual performances, loyalty and hard work. Are you sharing the success?

Drumming Up Relationships

As a teacher my personal mission statement was, “I strive to use rigor, relevance and relationships to be a steward of high student achievement.” This past weekend I was reminded just how important this really is. My son, Heath, and I took a Dad & Lad trip to New Orleans to watch Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints beat the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the NFL Playoffs.

During our exploring in the French Quarter we came across some boys playing the drums (five gallon buckets) for tips. For those who know me, it won’t surprise you that I decided to ask them if I could sit down and play the drums with them and get to know them. During my reading of The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver To Congo Square by Ned Sublette I learned that drum playing is a major part of New Orleans history and culture. In fact a drum according to New Orleans culture is anything that can create sound that carries. Well, as a farm kid I have been using five gallon buckets all my life.

The boys and I negotiated an appropriate tip to let me join in for a few minutes. It was awesome! We had a great time and I learned a lot from visiting with them. Click here to watch a video of my experience:

I learned each one of the boys is his own independent contractor, so I needed to tip each one individually. They came together, however to make better music together as a trio than each could make alone. Additionally, I learned that part of the money earned was used for family needs (food, et cetera) and part for a savings account. Wow, I was impressed – these boys were contributing to caring for family and learning entrepreneurial skills.

“A child’s play is not simply a reproduction of what he has experienced, but a CREATIVE REWORKING of the impressions he has acquired.”~Vygotsky

We also talked about the fact that I had been a teacher. One of the boys said, “You’re pretty cool, I’ve never had a teacher like you that would come out and sit down and drum with me.” This statement really had a huge impact on me. In reflection, I thought about just how important it is that every student deserves having someone pull up a bucket and get shoulder to shoulder with him and learn about him. In fact, I tweeted the following: “Hey @drewbrees! I understand why you love @VisitNewOrleans! I love these kids. As a former principal of an urban turnaround school I understand you have to sit shoulder to shoulder w/the kids and love them and participate with them building relationships. Go @Saints #WhoDatNation.” Bottom line: We need to be right alongside children playing and reworking with them!

As we were walking away my son commented, “Dad, that is why your students love you, because you want to get to know them and know what makes them tick.” So glad I was able to model that for him. No matter what we do, teaching or leadership – Relationships Matter!

Truly pulling up next to students and building relationships posits that teachers who have knowledge about their students will be better able to teach them. Teaching through relationships is more than that, however. Ultimately, it describes the complex social environment in which students and teachers converse, share experiences, and participate in activities that, together, make for engaged learning. Relationship building means getting to know our students’ learning styles and each students’ knowledge, abilities, and potential. Most importantly, it also means getting to know their interests, personality, and background. For me, just like sitting shoulder to shoulder with the boys playing the drums, this body of knowledge opens up the possibilities of growth and dramatic learning opportunities.

The framework for the research that led to the writing of my book, The Hand In The Back Of The Room came from Vygotski. Vygotsky’s theory promoted a learning environment consisting of contexts where the student plays an active role in the learning. Vygotsky believed there were cognitive connections between students and the sociocultural context in which they live through shared experiences. According to Vygotsky, there should be collaboration between the teacher and student, which in turn would facilitate the construction of meaning for the students. According to Vygotsky, the roles of teacher and student need to be shifted, as teacher collaborates more with his or her students, meaning construction is facilitated for the student. Learning therefore becomes a reciprocal experience for the students and teacher.

Relationships are the cornerstone for student learning.

Educator Reflections On This NCLB Anniversary Day

It all started in 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson, as part of The Great Society program, created The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA created a clear role for the federal government in K-12 policy, offering more than $1 billion a year in aid under its first statutory section, known as Title I, to districts to help cover the cost of educating disadvantaged students. At the bill signing in Johnson City Texas, President Johnson said, “As a son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty.” Then on January 8, 2002 President George W. Bush signed into law No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This bill was born out of concern that the American education system was not competitive­­ in a global economy.

NCLB increased the federal role in holding schools responsible for the academic progress of all students. Even though over the years there has been controversy over the effects of NCLB, I believe it is important to note the desire of progress for all students. As a believer that all students can learn and all students deserve a great school regardless of zip code, I would argue that NCLB helped us make strides in the right direction. It put a special focus on ensuring that states and schools improved the performance of certain groups of students, such as English-language learners, students in special education, and poor and minority children, whose achievement, on average, trailed their peers. NCLB really creates the environment for focusing on eliminating the achievement gap. NCLB put us on the trajectory to begin to focus on student outcomes instead of inputs or outputs. These outcomes enable us to tell the stories about our students, about who they are, what they want, and what they are achieving.

As a teacher during the passage and majority of the tenure of NCLB I appreciated the critical view of teaching and requirement of “highly qualified” teachers. I believe this was a precursor to teaching being a more highly regarded profession and teachers being treated like professionals. We still have a long way to go, but with ESSA we now have the opportunity to further the development of teacher leaders to build more capacity for distributed leadership. On this anniversary of NCLB we need to celebrate advancement of disaggregating data and recognizing areas for improvement and our continued commitment, as a country, to address long-standing gaps and ensure students are well-prepared for their post-secondary endeavors.

Status Quo Does Not Need To Be Staffed

The other day in a meeting a discussion about staffing came up. Those who know me know that I am very much a believer in empowering leaders. Also, remember that I as a believer in David Marquet’s Intent-Based Leadership, I believe everyone is a leader. So, all staff are leaders in my mind and should be treated as such. This discussion revolves around a board I am on, not my day job.

The discussion revolved around just how empowered staff should be. Once again, as a believer in Intent-Based Leadership, I want all staff to be in a position of leadership and saying, “I intend to.” I have always loved saying “Make it so” to employees. The person I was talking to, who agrees with me, made the greatest comment. He said, “Remember, Byron, status quo does not need to be staffed.” This is so true.

The whole issue being discussed was around how much autonomy staff should have and their role in decision making. Needless to say, those wanting status quo do not want staff doing to much, if anything. How sad is that. Great employees with no empowerment. I can’t even get my mind wrapped around the concept. But the idea that “status quo does not need to be staffed” helps frame the situation and is enlightening.

Think about it, if the only goal is status quo, then what is the organization really doing? Not much! I guess if status quo is the objective, then the organization probably does not need any “rock star” employees. I continue to be amazed at the number of leaders who lead with a status quo mentality. That is certainly not me. In fact, you could probably fault me for wanting to be in a constant state of continual improvement and change.

Now, I am not saying we should be in a constant flux of change, but we should always be looking for at least subtle ways to continually improve, or what I call, iterating. We don’t necessarily need to always think disruptive change – even though disruptive change is necessary at times. We need to also think about what tweaks and improvements can be made. This is where having a great staff comes in and is very necessary.

While status quo needs no staff, leading great organizations and creating social change does. If we want to change the world we need great staffs who are prepared to say, “I intend to,” so you can say “Make it so!”

What Difference Has Been Made?

Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to have a discussion during a meeting about outcomes versus outputs. I made the comment that I believed in accountability based on outcomes. The person I was meeting with said he was glad I said outcomes versus saying outputs. If we get stuck just evaluating and making decisions based on outputs we are bound for mediocrity. Great organizations, including schools, are managing to outcomes. In education, I believe we need to lead schools according to outcomes.

What do I mean by this? Let’s use the example of graduation rate. Make no mistake, this is an important output, but it is just that – an output. If we change our thinking to outcomes we look at what students are actually doing (or could be doing) after graduation. To me, this enables us to understand how our schools are serving students and how their lives and circumstances are being changed.

An outcome is the level of performance or achievement that occurred because of the activity or services an organization or school provided. Outcome measures are a more appropriate indicator of effectiveness. Outcomes quantify performance and assess the success of the organization and the processes used. In the high school graduation rate example, some outcomes would be is the student employed, is the student in the military, or is the student attending some post secondary education. Graduation rate, an output, alone does not demonstrate how the life of the student had been impacted. Basically, without outcomes, there is no need for outputs.

Furthermore, outputs are the what. Outcomes are the difference made. In other words, outcomes are the why. Sometimes I worry there is a perception that it is too hard or impossible to measure outcomes and that stops us, as leaders, from collecting key outcomes data. We need to work toward thinking more about outcomes. In the case of schools this will enable us to tell the stories about our students, about who they are, what they want, and what they are achieving.

Finally, if we study outcomes we can answer the question: What difference has been made?


I just finished an awesome book to finish out my 2017 reading challenge. In fact I read 90 books with a goal of 87 for 2017. The great book I just finished was, Leading Like Madiba: Leadership Lessons From Nelson Mandela by Martin Kalungu Banda. Kalungu-Banda taught us in this book that great leaders create trails that we can follow to find our own greatness. This does not mean we become their clones –that would be impossible, and anyway it would mean losing the rich variety of our personalities. But these great people inspire us as role models and their example helps us see what to aim for as we nurture our own style.

At the end of the book Kalungu-Banda gave us ten guidelines for leadership growth that he called: “Madiba path to leadership.” Here they are:

  1. Cultivate a deep sense of awe for human beings. Leadership is about people, and every single person matters. Mr Mandela, like Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa, did not have a business plan to begin his mission. He just had a deep-seated respect for people.
  2. Allow yourself to be inspired by the giftedness of other people. In a practical way, show that you recognise that every person has special gifts to use for their own wellbeing as well as for their community or organization.
  3. Grow your courage. Great leaders have courage. This does not mean absence of fear but learning how to recognise your fears, face the harsh realities of your situation, and nevertheless choose to follow what you consider the right course of action. At first this is not easy to do. Repeated practice will help you build courage as one of your virtues.
  4. ‘Go and preach the Gospel. Where necessary, use words.’ Lead by example. You should not ask of others what you are not ready to do yourself. Leading by action, you will inspire people more than by simply telling them what needs doing. Your active role will leave a deep and lasting impression on those you are privileged to lead.
  5. Create your own brand of leadership. A leader’s name and image must be consistently related to a set of values. This is what makes you really effective. When people think of you as a leader, they must immediately think of your principles. These are essential to guide your organisation or community through the various ethical conundrums they will inevitably have to face.
  6. Practice humility. Great leaders acknowledge their failings. Instead of making people lose faith in you, admitting your mistakes and limitations will draw people to help and work with you. By being able to apologise for your wrongs, you send the message that the search for right thought and action is a common enterprise. It is not owned or controlled by you or any other leader.
  7. Learn to live with the Madiba paradox. Life is a mix of hope and hopelessness, joy and pain, success and failure, vision and disillusionment. You as a leader have the task of helping others to live successfully with these apparent contradictions.
  8. Surprise your opponents by believing in them. There will always be people who disagree with your leadership style and what you do. Do not seek to silence, humiliate or vanquish them. Try to understand their point of view and deliberately work at identifying the positive elements there.
  9. Celebrate life. Activity and achievement of any kind are signs of life that affect life in turn. We work in order to enhance our life. We seek to excel for the same reason, not just to look good. In this spirit, we should celebrate not only individual performance and giftedness but life itself. You as a leader must participate in practices and ceremonies that honour the life of the people you are privileged to serve.
  10. Know when and how to make yourself replaceable. Great leaders know how to move themselves from centre stage. They know also when it is time to go. They prepare for it and make sure they have a successor who will build on what they have achieved. They enable other people to emerge as potential candidates. This is what sustains the leader’s legacy while guaranteeing a smooth transition.

As you can see, this is an incredible book and should be a part of every leader’s bookshelf. As Kalungu-Banda said, “Inspirational leadership makes all of us dig deep into the innermost parts of our being to find the very best that lies there and make it available to ourselves and others. This, in my view, is what great leadership is all about.” Are you practicing inspirational leadership at the highest level?

Leading Like Yeast

During my personal growth time this morning I was reading more in the great book, Leading Like Madiba: Leadership Lessons From Nelson Mandela by Martin Kalungu Banda. In the passages I was reading this morning Kalungu-Banda used the metaphor of leaders being like yeast saying, “Inspirational leaders are like yeast that permeates ordinary flour and water, making them rise into a good dough. This is a lot of what leadership is about: imperceptibly raising others to realise their own greatness and the esteem they deserve. A lot of the effect is gained simply by listening to people with respect.” Is that not awesome and so true!

“Inspirational leaders are like yeast that permeates ordinary flour and water, making them rise into a good dough. This is a lot of what leadership is about: imperceptibly raising others to realise their own greatness and the esteem they deserve. A lot of the effect is gained simply by listening to people with respect.” ~ Martin Kalungu Banda

This got me to thinking about the yeast we feed in our dairy herd. Yeast is a simple single-cell fungus. That is why I love Kalungu-Banda’s metaphor. As leaders, we are all pretty simple human beings but by creating the right environment we can do great things. The yeast that we usually mean in the context of food and livestock feed is the species named Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been used by man for millennia to produce alcoholic beverages, including beer and most spirits, and to enable bread to rise during the baking process.

During the early 1980’s when I went to Purdue University and was getting my Animal Science Degree, we were just beginning to research the use of yeast in ruminant (cattle are a ruminant – meaning four compartment stomach) feeds. The research being done was on the effect of yeast culture on ruminant production and rumen microbial metabolism. Effects on production were always small, which led to many questioning their statistical validity. The reported effects on rumen metabolism often seemed unrelated: Stabling pH, improved fibre digestion, lower lactate concentrations, altered fermentation product proportions in favour of propionic acid, lower methane emission, increased concentrations of cellulolytic bacteria, increased concentrations of cellulolytic bacteria, lower soluble sugar concentrations, decreased ammonia concentrations, all by the supplementation of a few grams of yeast to a cow with a rumen volume of 100-150 liters. Thus, if yeast could maintain a more stable, neutral pH, ruminal micro-organisms would be healthier: healthier ruminal micro-organisms lead to a more productive animal. Remember, this is all with only a few grams of yeast.

Therefore, I would add to Kalungu-Banda’s use of yeast as a metaphor and say that by just doing the right small things can create an environment where people can grow and flourish. When studying the effectiveness of yeast culture we needed to understand yeast’s mode of action at the molecular and cellular level. Sound like leadership?

Leaders develop their team members. They serve as the yeast by helping the team members gain new skills to help the team increase its ability to reach the organization’s goals. One important skill the leader teaches the team is leadership. Just like yeast, we need to be doing the little things that might seem like much, but will have big effects on those we serve and our organization. Are you leading yeast?

Applying A Little Heat

This morning, I walked to the barn to do the morning feeding and the thermometer 🌡 read 4 degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t mind the cold, but I always have to be cognizant that many things don’t work right, or at least need a little help to work right in this kind of weather. One of those things are frost free water hydrants.

For those who don’t know what that is, it is a water hydrant (pictured here) that is buried below the frost line and is designed so the on/off valve is at the bottom below the freezing point. Then when the water is turned off the water in the pipe drains down and out, and amazingly, no frozen water line. These are a great farm invention. They do, however, get a little moisture built up around the mechanism at the top for turning the water on and off.

Actually they are designed to withstand pulling the handle and turning them on, but I am always nervous in this kind of weather doing that. As we all know, things just have a way of going wrong in sub-freezing temperatures. Our way of mitigating this is to take a small hair dryer and running it for about 30-60 seconds on the valve. This small amount of heat makes it work perfectly – like it was 80 degrees out.

This morning, as I was doing this, I was reminded how a little heat being applied is good for all of us. I have always said that the best way to learn and grow is to be doing/trying something that causes a little fear. In fact I have blogged about it several times in: Leadership Lessons Of Mt. St. Helens, Telling Your Leadership Story, and Finding Your Leadership Voice just to mention a few.

As leaders we need to make sure we are enabling our team members to experience growth through real time projects and responsibilities that will, at times, cause a little “heat” and “pressure” to grow. The most effective leaders create unique experiences for themselves and others by taking calculated risks that put them and team members into situations that challenge their thinking, expand their perspective, make them feel vulnerable, and enable them to mature throughout the process.

Now, I am not saying throw yourself or your colleagues to the wolves. I am saying to act as the “hair dryer” I have used as the metaphor for this post and apply a little heat for growth to occur. This will allow us and those we serve to take key learnings from each of these experiences and apply them to similar circumstances we may be faced with. One of the ways I have learned to do this effectively is with task forces. Task forces gives teams of individuals a chance to form a community and create something for the organization.

The heat has been applied in my own personal life from being involved in turning schools around. Turnaround work can be one of the most thrilling and challenging adventures you can experience. Let me tell you, the “hair dryer” is pretty powerful and on high at all times. Turning around a struggling or failing situation teaches us to maximize the full potential of opportunities present in any situation and stretch the individual capabilities of ourself and other people.   We learn that there is always a way out and forward when there is an effective use of tools, resources, people, and money.

So, instead of letting a little heat, pressure, or fear intimidate us; let’s welcome and embrace it. Remember, sometimes a little heat from the “hair dryer” can be good for us all.

Leading From The Tractor Seat

I like to tweet out pictures from when I am sitting in my favorite chair – the tractor seat. As a leader I sit in a lot of seats, but I have to say, as the eternal farm kid, the tractor seat is my favorite. On this beautiful Christmas morning, I tweeting a sunrise picture from the tractor cab and some pictures spreading manure. Yep, even on Christmas morning there was work to be done and I loved every minute of it.

It got me to thinking about the leadership lessons available in a tractor cab. So, as a New Holland tractor guy I am going to use the New Holland cab for the metaphor. Here is what New Holland says about my tractor cab: “Ultimate comfort with the VisionViewTM cab designed around the operator’s needs” (from ). Think about that statement to start with. Aren’t we as leaders supposed to provide those we serve comfort and provide for their needs?

So, the description on the web went on to say the following (I am going to add in my leadership thoughts): The spacious VisionView cab provides outstanding all-round visibility, – as leaders we need to see everything from 30,000 foot, 10,000 foot and from the balcony – which has been further improved by the new single wiper blade with 200-degree movement – we need obstructions removed and those we lead to tell everything, whether good or bad – and extra wide-angle mirrors. – it is important to take a look at what has been done (lagging indicators) and know we are getting the job done right. While we should all leverage our strengths and seek out others whose strengths complement ours, we also need to practice new behaviors where we have identified blind spots. – For loader operation, a roof hatch can be specified to provide unrestricted view on the raised arms. – all leaders need not assume that position equals influence but instead to enter a meeting with a clean slate and make your observations from an unobstructed view. Remember that nearly every great leader was once a typical employee sitting in meetings with bosses and coworkers.

All the controls in the cab are ergonomically laid out, while many elements are adjustable to create a comfortable work station tailored to the operator. – Leaders who get to know their employees are better able to tailor recognition efforts and personalize the experience to the individual.Leaders who get to know their employees personally can tailor the ways for personal professional growth. The instrument cluster moves in conjunction with the fully tiltable steering column, ensuring a permanently unobstructed view. – in terms of vision, it’s being able to sense what’s going on in the world, see the unexploited opportunities and lurking dangers, and use that to figure out what to focus on and what not to focus on. – The IntelliViewTM IV touch screen monitor puts the operator in control of all the main parametres. I always say that the most important decision I make as a leader is “what to have my hands on” or “what to have my hands in.”

A choice of seats is available, offering varying degrees of comfort all the way up to the deluxe air-suspension version, as well as a full-sized instructor seat. it is great to have someone sitting alongside us learning. My son learned to bale hay, use the monitor, and wrap bales while sitting in the cab next to me. We must be shoulder to shoulder with those we lead. – The efficient air conditioning system can deal with the hottest conditions as well as the coldest days. – as leaders we must learn to adjust our lives to not only survive but be fruitful.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed a view through my cab window into why I love spending time in the tractor seat.