Byron's Babbles

Big Momentum

Civil Rights Blog LBJ

Lyndon B. Johnson – President Signs Civil Rights Bill/George Tames/1964/ National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution/Gift of Frances O. Tames/© George Tames; The New York Times

Successful sports teams in the 1960s were said to have “The Big Mo” on their side. The term refers to momentum. Since then it has come to describe lots of things, including politics, business, schools, et cetera. When we have momentum, we don’t worry about small problems, and larger problems seem to work themselves out.

img_9250It is said, “Momentum is truly a cruel mistress. She always seeks out inertia.” Robert Caro made reference to this in The Passage of Power, in reference to the first days, weeks, and months of the Johnson Presidency. Johnson was masterful in making use of the momentum that was gained when he first took office. He was particularly effective using momentum as a lever as it related to get the civil rights and tax cut bills of 1964 passed. The momentum that occurs when something new is starting is awesome. Caro did not talk about it in the book, but I believe that momentum changed people’s perspective of President Johnson, and they forgot about mistakes and looked past his shortcomings. We need to consider that momentum probably makes us look better than we are.

When we have big momentum the purpose and goals are clear. The expedition is going smoothly and this makes it easier to enthusiastically complete initiatives. When you have no momentum, the simplest tasks seem impossible, morale becomes low, and the future appears dark. On the other hand, when you have momentum, the future looks bright, obstacles appear small, and employee engagement is high.

As leaders it is our responsibility to create momentum. Momentum begins with each of us. If we are not focused on our own or organization’s vision, working to motivate our stakeholders, and maintaining the right attitude, we are limiting our organization’s potential.

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Complex & Different

Posted in Ambition, Leadership, Lyndon B Johnson, Power, Purpose, Robert A Caro by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on August 11, 2020

06282019_caro_1I just finished reading the entire The Years of Lyndon Johnson series by Robert A. Caro. The four books (Caro is presently working on the fifth and final volume) in the series are:

  1. The Path to Power
  2. Means of Ascent
  3. Master of the Senate
  4. The Passage of Power

The Passage of Power ends in 1964 after the transfer of power to President Johnson following the assassination of President Kennedy. During the first few days, weeks, and months of that transition, Johnson got a lot accomplished – civil rights bill and a tax cut bill. Caro discussed how we saw leadership traits in Johnson during this short period of time during the transfer of the Presidency that we had not seen before that enabled him to keep almost all the Kennedy Cabinet in place; making it possible to get major legislation passed that it had been doubtful if President Kennedy would be able to get passed. At the end of The Passage of Power Caro said that we saw good and caring leadership traits in Johnson during the first days, weeks, and months of his Presidency that had been subordinated by other less complimentary traits. Then, later in his Presidency we saw those less complimentary traits come back. Caro shared that Lyndon Johnson once said about himself: “I’m just like a fox. I can see the jugular in any man and go for it.” While he was ruthless, he did have a plan.

Leadership is the accomplishment of a goal through the direction of human assistants – a human and social achievement that stems from the leader’s understanding of his or her fellow workers and the relationship of their individual goals to the group’s aim. W.C.H. Prentice argued in 1961 (during Lyndon Johnson times) that leaders needed to learn two basic lessons:

  1. People are complex
  2. People are different

This argument is reinforced by all the characters in The Life of Lyndon Johnson series. W.C.H. Prentice continued to posit that by responding to such individual patterns, the leader will be able to create genuinely intrinsic interest in the work. He completely rejected the notion that leadership is the exercise of power or the possession of extraordinary analytical skill. Now, fifty-nine years later, we know that leadership is about influence and the ability to empower others and help others to learn and grow.

Caro wrote this biography series with the intent to study power as opposed to just the man: Lyndon B. Johnson. Much of what drove Johnson was his ambition which most of the time seemed to overpower his purpose. He also had an uncontrollable fear of failure and losing. These fears cost him the 1964 Presidential nomination because he was scared to declare he was even running because of the fear he might lose. By the time he declared it was too late. We now recognize how important purpose is to leadership. Leadership then becomes the accomplishment of goals with the assistance of the human element. In 1961 Prentice also taught us that leaders successfully marshal their human collaborators to achieve particular ends.

This study of power by Caro, caused me to think that most of the time Johnson was exercising power as opposed to exhibiting leadership prowess. The paradox is, however, that he was achieving particular ends. I wonder if W.C.H. Prentice studied or thought about Lyndon Johnson at the time he was forming thoughts about leadership? Once Johnson received the ultimate power he had lusted all those those years, he did, according to Caro, have a plan. He used his power for improving what he called the Great Society and championing civil rights. As with all humans, Johnson was complex and different. He did some great things as well as really terrible things. Caro taught us that biography gives of the ability to study all of the traits that are Lyndon B. Johnson.

 

Codifier Of Compassion

I am reading the final pages of what is right now the fourth in the great series, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert Caro. Caro is working the fifth and final and I sure hope he finishes it. These books that are really about power – how power is obtained, how power is used, and how power is abused. The fourth book, The Passage of Power, begins right before President Kennedy’s assassination and takes us through the first few months of Johnson’s Presidency. This includes passing a civil rights bill, getting budget approval, and a tax cut bill passed.

Robert Caro is an incredibly talented writer and I was moved by a statement in the book about Johnson. Here it is:

“He was to become the lawmaker for the poor and the downtrodden and the oppressed. He was to be the bearer of at least a measure of social justice to those whom social justice had so long been denied. The restorer of at least a measure of dignity to those who so desperately needed to be given some dignity. The redeemer of the promises made by them to America. “It is time to write it in the books of law.” By the time Lyndon Johnson left office he had done a lot of writing in those books, had become, above all presidents save Lincoln, the codifier of compassion, the president who wrote mercy and justice in the statute books by which America was governed.” ~ Robert A. Caro in The Passage of Power

He was comparing Johnson to Lincoln as a “codifier of compassion.” To codify means to make something a part of an organized system. In other words it becomes more than talk.

Because of the childhood poverty, his relationship with his father, and his teaching position, was able to have all three types of empathy I teach about in leadership professional growth gatherings. He was first able to show Cognitive Empathy; the ability to understand another person’s perspective. Because Johnson grew up in poverty, he was able to feel what another person feels, or what is called Emotional Empathy.

Thirdly, because of his experience as a teacher at Welhausen School in Cotulla, Texas, a small town on the border of Texas and Mexico, he practiced Empathic Concern: the ability to sense what another person needs from you. Johnson’s classes were made up of the children of Mexican-American farmers. Johnson didn’t speak Spanish and many of his students didn’t speak English. Despite this limitation, Johnson quickly and enthusiastically began teaching and encouraging the children to speak English by holding speech and debate tournaments.

Johnson was very strict with his students and left a lasting impression on them. In addition, Johnson organized a literary society, an athletic club, and organized field trips to neighboring towns so his students could compete in sporting events, speech, and spelling contests. With his first paycheck, Johnson bought playground equipment. In a letter home to his mother, Johnson wrote about his work with the students and asked her for help in sending toothpaste for the children and borrowing materials for his debate team.

Clearly Johnson’s upbringing gave him tremendous ability for empathy, but notice he added action to this. Thus, becoming compassion. Empathy is just a profound feeling, but add to that merciful and helpful action and you get compassion and supportive companionship. Compassion is empathy put into action, or as is the point of this post, codified.

Johnson’s past experiences had set him up perfectly to be a “codifier of compassion.” He knew what had to be done and did it. So many leaders talk empathy very well, but that is all it is – talk. We must walk the talk and codify that empathy with the actions of compassion.

What The H@#* Is A Team Player?

I almost always write a blog post on the Fourth of July. Today, however, I first thought that my topic had nothing to do with the day honoring our nation’s independence, but on further thought, I believe it does. I’ll let you be the judge after you read it.

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has said to me “he’s not a team player” or “she needs to learn teamwork.” These are very easy statements to make, but a lot harder to substantiate. Usually I even think the person making the statement understands less about teamwork than the person he or she is making the comment about. When I hear this, I always like to ask “What do you mean?” Most is the time the response I get reveals a very limited view of what it means to contribute to a team. Generally, the person making the statement wants the other person to fully concede to another way of thinking. And, if you’re paying attention, they will also use language like “reaching common ground,” as if we are looking for the best campsite.

Recently, I had a friend posit the reason individuals refer to others as non-team players is because it’s the easiest statement to put someone on the defensive. When thinking about the times I have been called out as not being a team player, it has put me on the defensive. When examining this subject in that light it really does reveal the ignorance of the other person’s understanding of team effectiveness, compromise, and consensus building.

If team effectiveness is the capacity of a group of individuals has to accomplish their own and their shared goals and objectives, then we must acknowledge the dichotomy that exists. Teams are made up of individuals and those individuals come with their own values, experience, and goals. That’s what made the melding together of the group that we call our nation’s founding fathers so powerful.

“The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.” ~ Patrick Henry

I’ve studied many former leaders extensively and the greatest of those leaders understood the difference between teamwork and marching orders. Teamwork should allow for diversity of thought and allow exposing the best of each individual. Again, as I said earlier, teamwork relies on style and strength differences of all individuals. Right now I am reading The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of The Senate by Robert A. Caro. In this study of power one sees that Johnson’s use of power and definition of teamwork is that of being loyal to him (Johnson). Real teamwork does not involve loyalty to a person or “marching orders.” These “marching orders” shut down new ideas and results in only doing the bare minimum.

Caro also laid out for his readers the fact that sometimes consensus can be reached by compromise and other times it absolutely cannot. In those times when it can’t, there must be a consensus built from scratch. In reality, many times compromise becomes a power struggle where some have to give up to accommodate others to get what they want. If this happens enough, it becomes a power struggle, not teamwork or consensus building.

Finally, the Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 people. Those 56 people did not have the same views. We must remember that not any one of these could have successfully lead us through the revolution. It took a team!

With The Crowd, Not Of It

Posted in Cincinnatus, Coke Stevenson, core values, Leadership, Lyndon B Johnson, Power, Purpose, Robert A Caro by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 6, 2020

I am reading Robert Caro’s second volume in The Years Of Lyndon Johnson – Means Of Ascent. He is such a great author and I love the things in this book that make me ponder, reflect, and give me pause. Right now at about a third of the way through this volume I am learning about a most fascinating man, Coke Stevenson. Or, Mr. Texas as he was known, was Texas’ 35th Governor.

Cincinnatus Statue in Cincinnati

He is my kind of leader. He practiced the learning of one of my heroes, Cincinnatus, of not wanting to lead for power, but to serve. Cincinnatus always returned to the farm. At the conclusion of all his service he just wanted to go back to his ranch, where he milked his own cows and branded his own calves. See why I love this guy?

Stevenson was beyond reproach in the Austin, Texas bar seen of lobbyists that was known for the three Bs: “beefsteak, bourbon, and blondes” (p. 158). The way Caro described him in this setting really caused me to think: “But although, in Austin, Stevenson was with the crowd at the Driskill Bar, he was not of it; there was a reserve, a dignity, about this tall, broad-shouldered, silent man with that watchful stare that set him apart from the crowd” (p. 159). This was a man that lived his values, instead of talking about them like so many leaders do.

I loved that statement, he was with the crowd, not of it. This was a man modeling, not just going along to get along. He was able to get along on his own terms. That’s a pretty big deal in my book. Following the crowd will cause us to be mediocre at best and live contrary to our core values. It really causes us to live a life of self-betrayal, and resigns is to an average life. It has been said that those who follow the crowd get lost in it.

The Nuanced Context Of The Great Society

Posted in Amity Shlaes, Calvin Coolidge, Great Society, Leadership, Lyndon B Johnson, Reflection by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 5, 2020

The Great Society: A New HistoryThe Great Society: A New History by Amity Shlaes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a well written and researched book. The book, for me, was written in such a way that lets the reader determine her/his own views on the subject. I spent a great deal of time pondering and reflecting on the content of the book. Having been a child during the Great Society era, I agree with the fact that the federal government, during this era, redefined its role in the arts, on media (television and radio), and public schools. As, Shlaes taught us, “Washington left no area untouched” (p. 6). In turn, the federal government became intrusive in the 1960s. The lesson learned was that the hypocrisy of how the middle class and the poor were treated began to limit our ability to innovate. One of the biggest lessons we should take from this book and the 1960s and 1970s is our need to find ways to truly evaluate programs, which we still do not have. Any time there are programs initiated by government we need to be able to answer whether the programs were worth and cost and if they achieved what was promised. This made me think of another of Shlaes great books, Coolidge, where we learned of Coolidge’s disdain for using legislation to experiment. In my blog post Remember Freedom Is Yours Until You Give It Up: https://byronernest.blog/2020/01/25/r… I spoke of how Harry Truman always spoke of the nuances of leadership, and the Great Society must be studied, which Shlaes did, in the nuanced context of the relationship of the Vietnam War, poverty, and civil rights.

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Serendipity Mattered

This week while continuing to read Great Society: A New History by one of my favorite authors, Amity Shlaes, I found the shortest sentence in the book: “Serendipity mattered” (p. 188). Serendipity has always been an intriguing word to me that I have had trouble understanding because I here it being used in different ways. But when used in the context of Shlaes book, in a two word sentence it made perfect sense. The sentence “Serendipity mattered” really drove home the point she was trying to make and really made the lightbulbs come on for me.

In other words, there needs to be serendipity for innovation to occur. So what is serendipity? As I said earlier, I have trouble understanding it fully, but I know that when conditions are right for it, great things happen. Serendipity is said to happen by simple chance. An opportunity that comes about by a chance occurrence. Therefore, we must create the opportunities for these occurrences. This was the point that Shlaes was making in the book. The Fairchild Semiconductor company realized they needed innovation. They also realized that looseness of hierarchy drove innovation. Thus, “Serendipity mattered.” It is also why we need to beware of the current tides toward any of the Great Society’s socialistic tendencies. This will stifle the serendipity that is so needed.

I touched on serendipity in my blog post Alternative Truths back in 2017, but only to say that we need to be intentional to create space for serendipity to occur. Therefore, I needed to study a little more. Research led me to find that our use of the word serendipity comes from The Three Princes of Serendip. The musician and poet, Amir Khusrau wrote this Persian tale in 1302. The tale is about King Jafer and his three sons. He wants them to have the best education in the kingdom. The King believed that great book learning needed to be combined with a real world context. Wow, I preach that all the time! In fact, I wrote a book, The Hand In The Back Of The Room, about it!

Anyway, the king gave each of the boys a horse and told them to go discover. The boys relished and took advantage of this experience. They learned from being on a journey of taking in real world experiences. Then in 1754, Horace Walpole coined the word serendipity in a letter. He described serendipity, by referring to the tale of the three princes, as making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of. He was excited about this word because there was no word to describe the discovery of something you are not looking for. It was really accidental sagacity.

Then comes the question, how do we create space for serendipity to happen. It probably won’t work to get everyone a horse, but I’m certainly up for it. Think about all the great inventions and innovations that have happened by accident. We need to remember in all this that creation precedes innovation. We need to provide ourselves and others varied routines and time for serendipitous moments to occur. It is why the story of the king sending the princes on a horseback adventure is so important. They’re heads were clear and they were just observing. Think about it; it’s why just taking a walk to clear your brain can bring creative thoughts and solutions. I do this a lot when facilitating teacher leader gatherings. I will tell them to split into groups and take a walk and discuss… They always come back refreshed and with great thoughts and ideas.

Leaders, including political leaders, need to recognize the important role serendipity plays in creativity, innovation, and even relationship building. Interestingly, in my research I found having lunch together as a strategy for encouraging serendipity. I blogged about having lunch together in Let’s Have Lunch Together, but not from the angle of serendipity.

We need to start looking for more serendipity to happen and create space for it. We might not be looking for something specific, but we need to be tuned into a channel of infinite possibilities. Think about it; this blog post was inspired by a two word sentence. It must have been serendipity!

Reflecting On Our Presidents

“The Republican Club,” by artist Andy Thomas, was personally chosen by President Donald Trump to be displayed in the White House.

Andy Thomas Democratic Club presidents painting Image of “The Democratic Club” painting by Andy Thomas

It has been an incredible 2020 President’s Day. I had to drive to Nashville, Tennessee this morning so I had lots of time to reflect on our Presidents. My son and I were together this past weekend and reflected on the Presidents in the paintings displayed in this post. We pondered what they were discussing and thought about how great it would be to have conversations with these Presidents. As I got closer to Nashville, I reflected on the leadership of Andrew Jackson. I had the chance to go to The Hermitage last year and to the site of The Battle of New Orleans the year before that. There are certainly things that I would not have agreed with Andrew Jackson on, but there is no question he was a great leader. I blogged about his leadership in “Old Hickory” Leadership.

I had a great day tweeting questions every hour or so related to our Presidents. There was some great interaction. Here’s the questions I asked throughout the day:

  • Who was our U.S. President the day you were born?
  • Who were the U.S. Presidential candidates the first time you were able to vote?
  • If you could have dinner and a conversation with any past or present/living or deceased United States President, who would choose?
  • If you care to share, who was the first U.S. President you ever voted for?
  • Who has spent time in the Oval Office with a U.S. President? Is so, which one?
  • If you could add another U.S. President to Mount Rushmore, who would you add?
  • Are you reading about any U.S. Presidents right now? If so, which one(s)?
  • Have you finished any great President autobiographies or biographies lately?
  • What is your favorite Presidential Library you have been to?
  • What do you consider the best book by or about a First Lady of our great nation?

Wow, until I typed them out here, I had not realized I had asked 10 questions today. I can’t resist telling you that our 10th President was John Tyler. He became President in 1841 when William Henry Harrison died. He was the first Vice President to succeed to the Presidency after the death of his predecessor. How about that for some President’s Day learning? It was sure fun reflecting on the past and how our Presidents have affected our lives and this great country we call home.

Passion At Ambition’s Command

Posted in Ambition, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Lyndon B Johnson, Passion, Power, Purpose, Robert A Caro by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 14, 2020

We teach that having passion is a key to success, particularly when linked with purpose. History, however, teaches us that passion can become destructive. Research in psychology describes this destructive passion as “obsessive passion.” The good passion is “harmonious passion.” My recent reading has given examples of two individuals where obsessive passion drove the individuals to become power hungry.

“His passions were at ambition’s command.” ~ James A. Caro in The Path To Power

In The Path To Power, Robert A. Caro said that Lyndon B. Johnson‘s passions were at ambition’s command. Johnson was obsessed with power and couldn’t get enough of it. The ambition for power and becoming president took over and clouded any purposeful passion for helping the people of our country. Everything he did and anyone he helped was dependent on what he could get out of it, or what power could be derived. When obsessive passion takes over with ambition calling the shots, the person’s self-worth becomes validated by whatever the ambition is. In the case of Lyndon Johnson that ambition was power.

Another person I recently studied who let obsessive passion take over was Elizabeth Holmes, Founder and CEO of Theranos. I read about her in Bad Blood: Secrets And Lies In A Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. She had purpose and passion for a world changing blood testing and analysis machine that only needed a drop or two of blood to run a myriad of tests. Her company wasn’t able to meet performance standards or efficacy. She is still involved in legal actions against her including criminal charges. Her ambition was for success as defined by celebrity, power, and greed instead of purpose for significance. To read more about this check out When Purpose and Passion Turn Into Ambition.

A Time To Fish & A Time To Mend Nets

Posted in Democracy, Leadership, Lyndon B Johnson, Power, Robert A Caro, Sam Rayburn by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 9, 2020

During my reading time this week, the story was told about Sam Rayburn in The Path To Power by Robert A. Caro that he liked to use the Biblical axiom, “There is a time to fish and a time to mend nets.” I had heard this axiom before, but really got to thinking about it after I read this. What he was saying, I believe, was that there was a time to be getting the work done and making the deals and there was a time to be building relationships and helping others to grow as leaders. I have already blogged about the inspiration from Caro about Sam Rayburn in “Sam, Be A Man” and Silence Is Golden.

img_7815-1In Mark chapter 1 in the Bible, one set of brothers, Simon and Andrew, were busy casting.  They were fishing.  The other set of brothers, James and John, were mending.  All four of these men were fishermen, but at the time, they were not all occupied in the same activity of their profession. Two of them were casting and two of them were mending. I believe that there are some important lessons that can be learned from this story. You don’t catch fish while you are mending.  In the lives of those fishermen mending time was considered a necessary evil.  No fisherman wanted to be mending, all fishermen wanted to be casting.

Mending nets was/is tedious work. It was/is routine, likely daily work. Spreading out the nets, sifting through them. It involves repairing holes, retying knots, and cleaning out debris. To say the least it is tedious and monotonous. This was the “grind” behind the glamour of fishing (if there is glamour in that). Just like fishermen, leaders have tedious and mundane work that has to be done in order to be effective. But, it’s the little things that must still be done. Furthermore, sometimes we keep doing the mending work and things still don’t go the way we want. We need to remember to go back and keep mending nets. We must keep trying. In Luke 5 we find another story where Jesus tells the fishermen to go out to deeper water after having fished for hours without catching anything. They followed the advice and caught so many fish their nets were full and breaking. This teaches us to keep trying and not give up. We also need to lead like Jesus and keep cheerleading our teams to keep trying.

Fishing is a powerful leadership metaphor. Fishermen are courageous and dedicated. If you’ve ever fished you know how frustrating it can be. My son and I have fished all day and caught nothing. We’ve also fished all day and not caught anything till the last hour. It was a good thing we kept fishing. I am sure you can compare this to whatever leadership work you do. Additionally, we cannot forget the teamwork that fishermen exhibit. They do not let one person do all the work. So, what have we learned from these fishermen and there being a time to fish and a time to mend net? The importance of staying at it, in good weather and bad, in lean times and lush times. They also knew there was a time to mend the nets and prepare for the next load of work.