Byron's Babbles

Listen and Look, Look and Listen

Posted in Leadership, Listen, Listening, Look by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 1, 2020

After the New Orleans Saints overtime win over the Chicago Bears tonight I was flipping through the channels (I know that term ages me) and came across an old episode of Columbo. I love that old show. Lt. Columbo, played by the late Peter Falk, is a police detective who is a little quirky, always has a cigar, makes you think he’s not too smart, but is super attentive. In the episode I turned to, he said “we don’t usually have much to go on except to listen and look and look and listen.” This struck me as the essence of what we all need to be doing. Columbo makes the guilty parties believe he is inept, but then teases out all the clues to solve the crime and prove guilt. Lt. Columbo makes an observation about some inconsistency. The seemingly trivial, it turns out to be the detail will tie together the entire investigation and establish the culpability.

Columbo brought a sense of curiosity and was sensitive to inconsistencies and incongruities. So, if we think about the term “look” we find that it means to direct your eyes in a certain direction. Then, “listen” means to pay attention to someone or something in order to hear what is being said, or sometimes what is not being said. “Listen” and “look” are actions usually thought of when we are paying attention.

We need to be more like Lt. Columbo and pay attention by listening and looking to focus our minds on someone or something that is happening.

Serendipity Baby!

Posted in Educational Leadership, Leadership, Listening, Serendipity by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on July 31, 2020

When conditions are right for it, great things happen. Serendipity is said to happen by chance, but I believe we must create the opportunities for these occurrences to happen.

Yesterday, the perfect opportunity for serendipity occurred as we were setting up for our Impact Georgia teacher professional development. We had two big screens on either side of the stage and a screen on the stage in the middle that was not going to work, but could not be taken down. There was a group of four of us looking at the stage. I said, “Do we have any good looking banners we could drape over it?” Everyone thought and we couldn’t think of any. Then a couple of other ideas were thrown out. Both good options. But, a fourth option then came in the form of a question: “could one of the stage curtains be positioned to just cover the middle part of the stage leaving the side screens visible?” We went to work and found the answer to be “yes!” Serendipity!

The solution was awesome. The front of the room looked great. A picture is attached to this post of the stage. Why did we get to a great solution, though? First of all our group was fully engaged with each other. Secondly, we were listening to all ideas. If we want everyone to voice more of their ideas, show that you care about all all their ideas; listen carefully, patiently, and respectfully to every idea. This creates a comfortable environment that has trust, rewards open discussion, and has everyone sharing their true thoughts.

Are you creating the opportunities that allow for serendipity?

Tending Our Friendships

Posted in Best Friends, Boston Legal, Communication, Forgiveness, Friendship, Happiness, Leadership, Listening, Metaphors by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 31, 2019

I was touched last night to have my son ask if I wanted to watch a couple more episodes of Boston Legal with him. Hey, it was 10:30pm; what else could be better? Plus, love spending time with the boy. We laughed and discussed the political issues of the time of the show. Then there was a cool seen during Season 4, Episode 20 when my son said, “That was a great metaphor.” As you know, I live by metaphor. Having my son recognize a quality metaphor – PRICELESS!

Here’s the scene: Alan Shore said to Jerry Espenson, “I feel as if I haven’t seen much of you over the past year.” Jerry replied, “Well, you’ve been really busy, Alan. So have I. With work. Work has…Hey! That’s the beauty of being friends, isn’t it? Relationships with long shelf lives. You can just stick them on the shelf. I tell you! Alan rebutted, “What?” Then Alan continued, “I have never ever considered myself someone who puts work before friendships. Seems I do.” Jerry then gave us the metaphor saying, “We all do, Alan. Friendships are a little like back yard gardens. We plan to tend to them. We just always seem to put it off till next week.” Friendships are the cornerstones of our lives. Our garden of friends requires careful tending.

We also need to recognize that people change and grow at very different speeds and different ways. Metaphorically, we need to plant, cultivate, prune, water, and fertilize our friendships. To have a relationship, you must plan, cultivate, and tend to it. Relationships left unattended eventually die.

We need to be grateful for our friends and the people who make us happy. For all the faults in the character of Alan Shore in the show, we do see him always trying to be a good friend. He offers advice, checks in on them, maybe shows up in court just to watch and show support, always seeks to reconcile a squabble with a friend quickly, and always goes and apologizes when he says something to a friend that offended him or her. One of the ongoing plots of the show is about friendships and romances of the characters. I blogged about this in Are We Best Friends?

Let’s not forget to tend to our gardens of friendship as we move into a new decade. In fact, I think I’ll make my New Year’s Resolution be: to appreciate my friends every day and catch more fish.

Are We Best Friends?

Posted in Benevolent Leadership, Best Friends, Boston Legal, Conversational Leadership, Forgiveness, Friendship, Listening by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 11, 2019

Do any of you remember the show Boston Legal? It was one of my favorites. The comedy-drama ran for five seasons from 2004-2008. The show focuses on the personal lives of the upscale lawyers and their cases of the law firm Crane, Poole, and Schmidt. Recently, when our cable was out and we could get no channels, my son and I were on the phone and he said, “Dad you know we have a SMART TV so you can watch episodes of some of your old time shows.” I have to admit that I didn’t know that. Then he explained how to get to the shows and that this is what leads to people doing what is called “bingeing.” I also have to admit, I did it – binge watched Boston Legal. It was great and there were so many things said in the show that made me think. So, of course I had to blog about it!

At the end of each episode there is always Denny Crane (William Shatner) and Alan Shore (James Spader) sitting on the balcony in cool white chairs, which are called Bubble Club Chairs – that you can buy, by the way, drinking bourbon and smoking cigars. The talk is funny, but very deep and meaningful. In Season 2, Episode 8 Denny says to Alan, “What I give to you, I do with no one else (speaking of their time on the balcony each night and ultimately about their friendship). I like to think that what you give to me you do with nobody else. Now that may sound silly to you. But, here’s what I think is silly, the idea that jealousy or fidelity is reserved for romance.” Alan replied, “…But gosh what I get from you Denny. People walk around today calling everyone their best friend. The term doesn’t have any real meaning anymore. Mere acquaintances are lavished with hugs and kisses upon a second or at most third meeting, birthday cards get passed around offices so everybody can scribble a snippet of sentimentality for a colleague they barely met, and everyone just loves everyone. As a result when you tell somebody you love them today, it isn’t much heard. I love you Denny, you are my best friend. I can’t imagine going through life without you as my best friend. I’m not going to kiss you however.” Like I said, some funniness to it, but also very deep.

What does it mean to be a friend, a best friend, or to love, I mean really love, someone today? Do those terms, as Alan Shore lamented, really have any meaning any more? I’m not sure they do. In fact the balcony seen at the end of this episode has caused me to really reflect on my own definitions of love and friends. I’ll bet you were recently passed a card and asked to sign it and you may have thought to yourself, “I really don’t know this person.” I’m not saying that giving birthday cards is bad, but have we become a society of trivializing friendship and love?

So, I ask the question that Alan asked; does the term “best friend” have any real meaning any more? I believe to be a best friend is a privilege not to be bestowed on everyone. Showing another human being that you care about them and that their happiness and presence in your life is important to you on a regular basis is, though it may seem obvious, is a fairly big commitment in practice.

Remember how much easier it was to have a best friend in high school or college? You were with them every day. I find it difficult to be a good friend. Life seems to have a way of inserting itself and does a pretty good job of prying us apart. I think of all the times I’ve said, “We’re going to get together.” But, then never do. I’m a little, actually a lot, envious of Denny and Alan being able to sit on the balcony every evening at the end of the work day and philosophize. The lesson that can be learned from studying the characters of Denny and Alan is that being a best friend involves compromise, trust, and a mutual growth that allows certain friends to last through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Really, friendship is a peculiar type of love. There is no real binding commitment to the opposite person other than what you are willing to put into the relationship. I really do think the term “friend” doesn’t have as much real meaning anymore. How many times have you had someone start a conversation with, “As a friend, you need to know…”? Many times there is not the friendship to be making the observation. That’s why, as the person on the receiving end, it upsets us. Again, we learn from Denny and Alan that a true “best friendship” allows us to:

  1. Love you for you
  2. Listen to understand
  3. Be accepting
  4. Be genuine
  5. Appreciate the humor

Do you know and appreciate the value of your best friend?

Known Knowns, Known Unknowns, & Unknown Unknowns

Today during the last day of our Teacher Academy I realized that our first year teachers and those teachers who were with us for the first time still had a few gaps of things they needed and wanted to know for the first day of school. It is very tough to give beginning teachers everything they need to know, and many times in doing so it is like making them drink from the proverbial water hose. So, I pulled an audible and planned a “lunch and learn” and framed it as giving them a chance to learn about what they knew they didn’t know. It was awesome and a huge success. We had pizza and salad and had four of our great teacher leaders and school leaders sit and have a conversation just answering their questions (they did a great job, by the way). This group of new teachers had great questions and were much more at ease going into the weekend before the start of school. They were so appreciative of having the opportunity to have a discussion in a non-threatening environment and be able to ask anything. I was quickly reminded of how many times we awesome people know things that in reality they would have no way of knowing.

Many times we don’t know what we don’t know; we know more than we quite know we know; or know what we don’t know. Sometimes we need to pose the question: “What don’t you know and how will you learn it?” What I learned today was that we need to take time to listen to those we serve and find out what they know they don’t know. This seems like such a novel idea, but I’m not sure we do a very good job of this at times.

“As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” ~ Donald Rumsfeld – February 12, 2002, Department Of Defense news briefing

Maybe another great question we should ask as leaders is, “What do you feel unknowledgeable about?” You can’t know what you don’t know. You can’t know about things you have yet to discover. You can’t know what the future holds, though you might conjecture on it. But, many times we do know what we don’t know. This is simple ignorance: just not knowing and knowing you don’t know.

Contrast simple ignorance with compound ignorance: thinking you know but knowing so little you can’t recognize your own ignorance. Today really made me think about the fact that we need to embrace simple ignorance and allow those we serve to express what they know they don’t know. Simple ignorance is the most honest and least harmful. It can be beneficial in avoiding stupid mistakes as well as prompting one to learn more.

Are you encouraging others to explore the things they know they don’t know? Are you helping them learn the things they know they don’t know?

As Leaders, We Create The Weather

How do you show up? Think about this: do you show up sunny and bright or stormy and cloudy? Bottom line: if you show up as sunshine it will be a shiny happy day for the team. If you show up as a thunderstorm, however, it will be a rough ride. Either way, unlike the weather outside, you have the ability to influence the weather of your organization.

If you don’t believe this think about if you have ever worked with someone who you need to ask others what kind of mood he or she is in before talking to him or her. If you’ve experienced this then you have experienced leaders controlling the weather.

Therefore, we need to be intentional about the weather systems we create. Think about about the extremes: blizzards, hurricanes, extreme heat, or tornadoes. Then think about that sunny day with a calm breeze and moderate temperatures. Which of these weather patterns would you want to be creating?

Your teams and organizations will take their cues from you and whatever weather pattern you are projecting. If your outlook is sunny and bright, the organization is sunny and bright. If your outlook is full of storm clouds, the weather in the organization will be pretty much the same.

Next time you are with your team or people, imagine you are the weather map behind the meteorologist on television and she is about to give the weather report. If you take this moment of being mindful, it will help you to calm any storm fronts and bring sunshine and calm breezes to your organization.

Don’t forget, you are your organization’s meteorologist. As leaders, we create the weather. What kind of impacts do your weather systems have on your organization?

We Must Listen For What Is Not Being Said

img_4774One of the things I love most about facilitating our Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership gatherings is when participants say things that really make the group dig in and think. This is heuristic learning at its best. Last night one of our central Florida participants made the comment that as a leader she needs to “listen for what is not being said.” This caused a good discussion around the idea of why was something not being said or were the things not being said even known about to be said. That’s quite a mouthful, don’t you think?

So, how does one get better at paying attention to what is not being said? Good question, right?

Sometimes the challenge is on the end of the person or group communicating with us. If you think about it, we’ve all been in this situation, or at least I have. There are times when we just don’t have the knowledge, words, or correct vocabulary to express what we are thinking. Additionally, the other person does not have the emotional self awareness to convey what they are feeling to get their needs on the table for discussion. Furthermore, there are times when people are just afraid or uncomfortable to intimate their honest thoughts, opinions, and feelings.

We must, as leaders, listen for avoidance of topics, vague communication, or lack of knowledge. These are all cues that something may not be being said that should be. We can combat this by doing more listening than talking. Also, we need to listen to understand, not listen to respond with an answer. We should think more in terms of what is the right next question. Word clues are great to listen for. Finally, we need to pay attention to body language and other non-verbal cues that tell us the person or group we are convening with has more information that is not being told.

In our discussion, we decided there is to perfect equation for listening for what is not being said, but that we must be curious and listen for underlying issues or topics. We need to ask clarifying questions to make sure we we understand before moving on from a topic. Listen and clarify!

That’s A Little Too Far Out There!

This past weekend, at our Carolinas 3D Leadership gathering, I was recording comments during a planning discussion for a project they were working one. It struck me that at one point they went from talking transformation to the comment, “That’s a little too far out there.” I’m thinking to myself, “Uhm…if it’s going to be transformational, it probably needs to be out there.” I’ve always believed, and I we often see this; the idea that seems crazy at first turns out to be the idea that propels the organization forward or enables the desired transformation.

As I see it, passion, purpose, and capacity are the only requirements for coming up with and participation in “way out there” ideas. And, once the freedom to try out new ideas becomes ingrained in employees’ behavior, it can spread and transform the entire culture of your organization to be nimbler and more creative.

We need to create environments where we can challenge the status quo as if no one’s judging you. If being open and willing to try out new ways of working isn’t practiced and encouraged in the culture at the top of the organization, how anyone ever have the courage to voice their ideas?

The secret to truly agile and innovative organizations is this: they encourage and invite new ideas from all levels and see leaders at every level. So, next time you have that idea that might just go too far, voice that “crazy” idea regardless of your title or level; lead from where you are!

Puzzling Leadership

As you know, the first step in putting a puzzle together is to look at the picture on the box to see what the completed puzzle will look like. As a leader, we need to have a vision (picture) of the final product, and what it is you are trying to accomplish. But, what happens when the puzzle pieces are blank and there is no picture on a box?

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to put a puzzle together if you do not know what the picture looks like. It is also difficult to be a good leader if you do not know what you are trying to accomplish. But, if there is a vision and plan the leaders can create the picture and paint the picture one puzzle piece at a time.

I witnessed this yesterday at our Carolinas gathering of our Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership Program. Our theme for the day was “Setting The Leadership Table.” The main activity of the day involved telling the story. The only catch was that participants had to tell the story by planning and doing a luncheon telling the story of the North and South Carolina schools with the decorum, appetizers, salad, main course, and dessert. There was a budget provided and the participants had two hours to plan, go get supplies, prepare the food, decorate the room, and have their story ready for stakeholder guests to arrive for the luncheon. Here was the agenda for the day:

I loved the planning discussion that ensued. Here are phrases and things that were said that jumped out at me during the discussion:

Now, back to the puzzle metaphor. The participants decided to use a puzzle through line for the luncheon. Genius! Here’s the cool part; the same rules of making a puzzle applied to leadership and successful completion of the project. Here are the steps:

Step #1-Have a vision, know what you want to accomplish

Step #2-Get to know your group members. Interestingly, we talked about this in our “what did you learn” time afterward. It was discussed that the event would not have been near as successful back in January when the group came together for the first time.

Step #3-Identify leadership qualities you will need to be an effective leader

Step #4-Follow the guidelines

Step #5-Understand your importance, where you fit, and what you have to offer. This was a topic many reflected on following the luncheon.

So, here’s the deal: everyone had responsibilities and had to complete a puzzle piece and write the story for their school’s part of “Team Carolina.” I also was asked to complete a piece of the puzzle representing Noble Education Initiative’s (NEI) role in the puzzle of support for the Carolinas.

What we found was that creating the puzzle pieces for our puzzle used the same leadership principles needed for forming an effective team. When forming a group of individuals into a team, you must first figure out the following:

  • Strengths, What are the individual strengths of each one? How can the strength of one, build up the weakness of another?
  • Shape, What does each individual bring to the table as far as expertise and knowledge? Just like a puzzle piece each one will have something to share to the greater picture or vision your trying to create.
  • Edges, Which individuals define the shape and scope of your vision? There will be some that will have definitive edges that will build the foundation of your team, therefore making the picture clearer to all who view it.
  • Odd shapes, Which individuals appear, at first , not to fit into the picture? There will be those that don’t look like they are going to fit or add value to our vision or picture. Sometimes, these are the very pieces that end up truly fitting in and adding a lot of value to the team, making the overall picture clearer.

As I watched the participants put their pieces together and tell their school’s story, they did a great job of keeping the overall picture in view. So many times we lose focus on the overall picture and what do we do? We start to panic and cram pieces together. This is when we are no longer leading but are dictating and mission creep begins to take over. Or even worse, we begin to lose puzzle pieces, and we all know what’s it’s like to put a puzzle together with missing pieces.

The beautiful thing is, that when we do get all the pieces together we have created a beautiful picture, a real team (not just a bunch of individuals), and a true network of schools. How is your organization’s puzzle coming together?

The Blind Spots Identified

The following is an excerpt from What Are Your Blind Spots?

The Blind Spots Identified

By Jim Haudan and Rich Berens

We have identified five leadership blind spots that perpetuate disengagement and indifference. They do the exact opposite of creating thriving, innovative workplaces that turn customers into advocates and fans. Let’s take a quick look at each one before each chapter breaks them down further and answers the key questions leaders need to ask themselves in order to see things as their employees do.

Leadership Blind Spot #1: Purpose

Common Misconception. Purpose matters, but it doesn’t drive our numbers.

The Basics. While there was a time when employees were only paid to complete a specific set of tasks, there is way more to it than that today. Many leaders are starting to embrace the concept of purpose but fail to actually run their businesses in a purpose-driven way.

The Question We Will Answer. As leaders, how can we put purpose at the center of the way we operate our business and achieve exceptional financial results because of it? Leadership

Blind Spot #2: Story

Common Misconception. We have a compelling story to tell that our people care about.

The Basics. Most organizations have a semi generic vision statement, accompanied by what seems like too many slides to outline their strategy for what winning looks like for the organization. Leaders believe they have a compelling story to tell, but when seen through the eyes of the employee, the complete opposite is often the case.

The Question We Will Answer. What makes a strategy story compelling, and how can we craft one for our people?

Leadership Blind Spot #3: Engagement

Common Misconception. Rational and logical presentations engage the hearts and minds of people.

The Basics. In many organizations, a tremendous amount of money is spent creating strategies to win. Those strategies then get communicated using PowerPoint presentations, road shows, or town hall meetings—but things seemingly get stuck. Employees fail to connect with the strategy, leaders are frustrated about the lack of progress, and managers just try to hold the ship together.

The Question We Will Answer. How do we move from presentations to conversations and create genuine engagement in strategies in the business?

Leadership Blind Spot #4: Trust

Common Misconception. People will not do the right thing unless you tell them what to do and hold them accountable to do it.

The Basics. Companies want and need to deliver great service to differentiate themselves, and the common belief is that the best way to deliver this is to create tight processes, scripts, and routines that minimize variability—to hold people and their behaviors to a strict policy and uniform standards. But that approach will never create consistent yet unique, differentiated, and personalized experiences that lead the market.

The Question We Will Answer. How can we trust and scale the unique human judgment, discretion, and care of our people, while at the same time having firm standards that we all share?

Leadership Blind Spot #5: Truth

Common Misconception. My people feel safe telling me what they really think and feel.

The Basics. In many leadership teams, what people really think often gets discussed in the hallways and bathrooms and by the watercooler rather than in meeting rooms. People don’t feel safe telling the truth because they don’t think it is smart or safe to do so. Many leaders believe that to be effective and successful, they need to be smarter than the next guy, fight for their area of the business, and not show vulnerability. This mentality creates lack of trust, collaboration, and common ownership for a greater goal—and ultimately greatly slows down execution speed.

The Question We Will Answer. What can we do as leaders to make it safe for our people to tell the truth and act on those truths to make the business better?

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About Jim Haudan

Jim Haudan is Co-Founder and Chairman of Root Inc. Root Inc., the organizational change expert on helping companies create leadership alignment, execute strategies and change successful, build employee engagement, and transform businesses.  He is a sought-after business presenter who has spoken at TEDx BGSU, Tampa TEDx, and The Conference Board. His latest book, What Are Your Blind Spots?: Conquering the 5 Misconceptions that Hold Leaders Back is co-authored with Rich Berens is CEO and Chief Client Fanatic of Root Inc. The book equips readers with the tools needed for a personal leadership reset. You’ll discover how to increase engagement, productivity, and growth in your own organization.

About Rich Berens

Rich Berens is CEO and Chief Client Fanatic of Root Inc, and has helped align leaders at Global 2000 organizations to drive strategic and cultural change at scale. He is a noted speaker on the issues of, transformation, and how to create lasting change  and has authored articles for numerous publications and blogs. Under Rich’s leadership, Root has been listed among the Great Place to Work® Institute’s top 25 places to work, been named to the Inc. 5000 fastest-growing companies list, and experienced 10 years of consecutive growth. His latest book, What Are Your Blind Spots?: Conquering the 5 Misconceptions that Hold Leaders Back is co-authored with Jim Haudan is Co-Founder and Chairman of Root Inc.