Byron's Babbles

Leading With A Constant Presence

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, Presence by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on July 2, 2022
General William Tecumseh Sherman by L.M. and Max Rosenthal

In his memoirs, General Ulysses S. Grant told us that Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman’s constant presence is what made his troops so successful even with troops that had no previous battle experience or even been shot at. His army was largely made of volunteers and not professional solders like himself. So he drilled, trained and led right along side them to develop them into a formidable fighting force. Notice I said develop. In doing more studying on this I found that he developed his men through challenge, and by remaining available nearby as their coach. He was using what we today would call scenario and case study facilitation.

I loved learning about this from General Grant’s own words. Additionally I found more information about General Sherman in Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman, by Robert O’Connell. O’Connell said, “…the variety of missions they would undertake precluded turning them into any one thing. So he became a guiding hand, presenting them with a series of challenges and basically letting them figure out how to meet them. Yet he never lost contact; he was always among them, completely approachable.” Here is the man that would perfect the “scorched earth” tactic being described as “completely approachable.” I love it!

In 1862, Sherman was modeling acting as a guide or coach to support the problem solving activities of those he served, rather than giving commands and answers. That was truly radical for the time and I have encountered or worked for very few who truly practice this. In fact during my career I have had one principal and one superintendent that I would put in the great category related to the topics being discussed here. General Sherman believed in giving respect, autonomy, and the chance to grow to all he served. Sherman said, “Every soldier of my command comes into my presence as easy as the highest officer…. They see me daily, nightly, hourly.” Wow, a constant presence – let’s all keep working on that!


Simple Things

As we run-up to the new year, I offer this post as a culmination of some leadership thoughts from 2021. The beauty of my job is that I get to work with a lot of aspiring leaders who are really intuitive about what it takes to really help people right now. We’re all under intense stress from the pandemic. One thing I have noticed is that the simple things are being overlooked. We must make sure we are doing the common sense things and get back to being human. These are really the intrinsic things such as caring.

Our human capital is the most important part of all organizations and businesses. Amazingly it does not take much! Again, I don’t think we’re doing the simple things; like asking instead of guessing what individuals need or want. It might be as simple as asking the teacher how things are really going and really caring about the answer and wanting to help. This takes knowing people and reinforces what we already know – relationships matter most. This is more than just a transactional relationship. Seeing each other as whole persons is primarily a choice that we can make. These relationships depend on and foster openness and trust. We must work really hard at building trust. We do not have a relationship if you trust me, but I don’t trust you. Don’t forget that our level of trust reflects the degree to which our behavior and the behavior of the other are consistent. Never forget, relationships are the most important determinant of fulfillment and happiness.

By building strong relationships and building trust we are better able to recognize each others’ uniqueness. Our organizations are communities. We must tend our relationships and rally bringing people together. We all need to feel connected again and have a shared sense of what is valued. As we move into 2022 let’s make a renewed commitment to being present and proactive about doing the simple things to provide help.

Are You Where You Are?

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, MASH, Presence by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on June 5, 2021

Okay, you caught me. I was watching M*A*S*H again last evening. I just can’t help myself and there are always so many things to think about. Last night I was inspired by a quote I heard Colonel Sherman Potter, played by Harry Morgan, say, “If you ain’t where you are, you’re no place.” This spoke to me, so I wrote it down. His quotes in M*A*S*H are awesome and always cause some deep thought. This quote is really the best definition of being present there is. Let’s read it again, “If you ain’t where you are, you’re no place.” The scene was set on Christmas with others making themselves miserable because they wanted to be somewhere else. Think about a time when you were at a gathering, professional growth opportunity, class, family event, in a conversation with someone, or even speaking to a group or presenting and your mind was somewhere else. What we end up doing is passing through that moment on the way to somewhere else and, in doing so, we miss the moment. During those moments, our time is spent in the past, the future, or wishing to be somewhere else rather than the present moment.

We need to lean into who we are and be fully present where we are. Being fully present is becoming engaged in whatever we are doing at the moment and soaking in all the sensations that go with it. Being a present person does not mean that we never think ahead and that we always live in the moment. Becoming present means that when we have carved out time for something or an opportunity for an experience develops, we are all there. We soak it in. It becomes intentional. The act of being fully present makes a difference not only to yourself, but also to the people you serve, love, and spend time with. The experiences become richer, more meaningful, and more enjoyable because you are there and engaged instead of being no place. Are you where you are?

Empowerment Triggers The Approach System

IMG_7712There has been a great deal written about student agency, student choice, and empowerment. In fact, just yesterday I was working with teachers on how to empower student in such a way to get to a self (student) managed classroom. Student agency and choice refer to learning by doing activities that are meaningful and relevant to learners, driven by their interests, chosen by the student, and often student (self) initiated. As a teacher, I loved giving students a stake in choosing from opportunities provided for them; or many times letting them come up with options. These opportunities might include giving the choice between doing a project, making a presentation, writing a paper, creating a product, or other activities. This ability to choose, or have agency, empowers the students, which leads to greater investment of interest and/or motivation.

25066556._SY475_Like I said, I used student agency for years as a teacher and promote it as a major tenant of project based learning. It seems that this is really brain-based. Yesterday, I finished reading the great book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy. While this was not an education book, the principles of empowerment and powerlessness triggers that apply to our presence as a leader, also apply to the way we engage students.

In the book, Cuddy explained the approach and inhibition systems of the brain. This explanation came from the 2003 study of psychologist Dacher Keltner. The approach system is made up of regions in the brain that promote curiosity, being adventurous, and trying new things. The inhibition system, promotes cautious behavior. Too much of this causes us to see threats where others recognize opportunities. In other words, it stifles us. Think about these two systems both from a leadership standpoint and a student engagement perspective.

Keltner argued that empowerment triggers the approach system. In other words, if we believe we are empowered we are able to be more curious, adventurous, and willing to try new things. Doesn’t this sound like how we would like our students to be every moment of every day? Conversely, Keltner posited that powerlessness triggers the inhibition system. As was explained earlier, this causes cautiousness. Think about this from a leadership or educational perspective. When we empower others and give them autonomy this triggers our approach system, and contrarily when we take power and agency away and add constraints we trigger inhibition. Remember, power is the ability to change something. Do we not want our students and team members to be in a position to do this?

Bottom-line: the approach system will respond to rewards and opportunities and the inhibition system responds to constraints, threats, and punishments. Really if you think about this it is pretty simple. These two systems in our brain exert powerful influence over our actions, motivations, and emotions. How are you empowering? How are causing powerlessness? It could be as simple as giving student agency removing constraints, or not have having team members go through a bunch of compliance hoops of approval. Let’s keep these triggers in mind as we navigate 2020.