Byron's Babbles

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.

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.

Silence Is Golden

I love it when one of my favorite Presidents is quoted in books that I am reading. Robert Caro included a quote from former United States Speaker Of The House Sam Rayburn credited to former President Calvin Coolidge is his book The Path To Power. Ive already blogged about Sam Rayburn in “Sam, Be A Man.”

Rayburn was credited with saying that one of the wisest statements outside of those written in the Bible was when Calvin Coolidge said, “You don’t have to explain something you never said.” This speaks to the wisdom of our 30th President. Coolidge matters and was a role model of great leadership. Sometimes the smartest thing is to say nothing at all.

“You don’t have to explain something you never said.” ~ Calvin Coolidge

This can keep us from ending up negotiating and debating against ourself. Additionally, being silent at the right times can keep there from being misunderstandings. Just because there is silence does not mean we need to talk, especially if we are not completely knowledgeable on the subject being discussed. I’ll bet if you are like me you have had times where you have wished you hadn’t said something – because you ended up having to explain it and then couldn’t.

It is also important to listen to what has already been said. Often, in meetings I say, “Everything has been said, just not by everyone yet.” I’ll bet you’ve been in meetings where everyone keeps saying the same thing or making the same point over and over, too. Robert Caro teaches us that reading biographies of leaders offers us great learning. I am certainly learning a lot from reading his work.

Every Day We Are Making Memories

Posted in Leadership, Lyndon B Johnson, Power, Robert A Caro by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 30, 2020

 

As happens a lot in my world I received inspiration for a blog post from a book I am reading right now. I set a reading goal of completing all of Robert Caro’s books on the life and power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson) of Lyndon B. Johnson. I am working on the first book, The Path To Power, now. Caro is such an amazing writer and leaves no stone unturned. Right now I am learning about Lyndon Johnson’s childhood in the Hill Country of Texas. The inspiration from my current reading was about young Lyndon’s description of time spent with his father, Sam, particularly talking politics and traveling back and forth from the statehouse in Austin, Texas. It should be noticed, as Caro stated, that the story and father/son relationship described here would be in the years of 1918, 1919, or 1920. The relationship between Lyndon and his father changed drastically starting in 1921.

What got me thinking was when Caro wrote about Lyndon reflecting on loving the times when he and his father would travel in the Ford Model T to and from the Statehouse in Austin, Texas. He shared that his father would bring a crust of bread (I am comparing that to bringing a loaf of bread) and a jar of homemade jam. When they got hungry or tired, they would stop and spread some jam on bread and eat. I got a visual of that great dad and lad time when reading this. I’ll bet those were some of the best meals of Lyndon’s life.

This made me remember and reflect back of some great travel times as a young (notice I didn’t say small, because I was never small) boy with my own father. Specifically, I remember our three hour trips south to Louisville, Kentucky for the National Farm Machinery Show. He and I would stop and get a loaf of bread and some cheese. We would always buy bulk cheese and have the person at the deli counter slice it real thin for us. I remember those cheese sandwiches being the best sandwiches I have ever had. I loved spending this time with my dad. We had such great conversations while eating those cheese sandwiches.

I have tried to do things like that with my son and spend quality one on one time with him. We actually talk about what our next dad and lad time will be. Now that he is away at college, that time becomes more and more precious. Hopefully, he will remember those moments with fondness and he will do the same for his children some day. Needless to say, dad and lad, dad and lass, mom and lad, mom and lass time is very special and important. In the case of Lyndon and Sam Johnson this was time that Lyndon was learning about politics. Caro wrote that if kids were playing and asked Lyndon to join in he would never join them if he was talking to his dad at the time.

So, why blog about this? For one it was great to reflect on great past moments with my dad. Secondly, it is a reminder to us all just how important the touch points with our kids are, however seemingly insignificant they are. At the time my dad was buying a loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese it was to save money and because there weren’t the places to stop and get food on the way to Louisville along I-65 that there are now. Amazingly, Louisville, Kentucky seemed like it was on the other side of the world. My, how small of world we have become! Don’t forget, make the most out of every moment you have with your children. These times are precious and are very important to their formative years. Always remember, every day we are making memories.

366 Page Best Selling Autobiography

In the past few days there has been plenty said and written about New Year’s Resolutions. Why do people bother? I even saw (notice I didn’t say “read”) a blog with 15 steps to keeping your resolutions. Really! Why do we put ourselves through that process for failure.

If I was going to have a New Year’s Resolution, however, it would be to appreciate my friends every day and catch more fish. Pretty doable, I believe. And, unlike where we do things like get an accountability partner (which, by the way, just adds stress to someone else’s life) this resolution is fun for your friends. Who wouldn’t want to go to lunch and catch up, or go fishing?

In my morning motivational message, that I tweet and post on LinkedIn (notice it’s not an email I force people to deal with – it’s a choice for someone to go look at it) each day, I said, “Today is the first blank page of a 366 page autobiography. Make it a best seller.” I really believe if we approach every day as a page to a best seller we could write a pretty good book.

Best selling and Pulitzer Prize author Robert Caro says, “I have to produce every day.” Caro has written massive volumes about Robert Moses, New York City shaper, and President Lyndon B. Johnson. He will tell you these books are not about the men, but about power – getting it, using it, becoming abscessed with it, and abusing it. I have read The Power Broker and it is awesome. I am planning to start the series on Lyndon Johnson this year.

Many have asked Caro over the years about his work habits, and there have even been interviews. Therefore, even though he was not done with the last volume of his books on Lyndon B. Johnson, he took time to write Working. In this book, which is a great read by the way, he outlines how he goes about doing the work of writing these in-depth books on power. What stuck out to me was when he wrote that he writes 1,000 words per day. Then at the beginning of the next day he reviews and revises the writing of the previous day and writes another 1,000.

See where I’m going here? What a great metaphor on this New Years Day! We need to approach this New Leap Year as a blank pad to write 1,000 words per day for a 366 page best selling autobiography. Each day we can reflect on the previous day, but then get to work on the next 1,000 metaphorical words that are our life. So maybe, just maybe it’s this simple: produce every day.

Best Books Of 2019

Screen Shot 2019-12-29 at 12.48.09 PMI was asked yesterday what the top five books I read in 2019 were. I had to really think about the question, because I do not read to rank them. In fact when I have a book recommended to me I always ask what am I going to learn from it. Reading for me is a way to open my mind to new ideas or hone skills. I hate it when someone reads a book and then wants to somehow miraculously put everything in place. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s why book reads, and there is research that backs this up, are not effective. As I reflected on the question, however, I decided to go back and see which books I read this year were referenced in my blog posts. This is a partial indication of learning from the books being used in the real-time pondering I am doing.

My Best Books Of 2019

So, here’s what I did first: I went back through my over 100 blog posts from this year and flagged every one which referenced a book I read in 2019. There were 22 posts referencing 20 of the books I read. I have those those posts organized in no particular order by four books at a time. Remember, these 20 books should be considered as part of the Best Books In 2019 that I read. If you read the posts you will find what lesson(s) I learned from the book, and there is a link to the book and the author in each post. Here are the posts:

Collaboration and Get Some Sleep and Self-Awareness

When Leaders Go Bad

Cheesecake Talk Triggers

Leading Influence Formula

Overworked and Overwhelmed

Leading By Metaphor

Do Others Like The Vibes You Give Off?

Leading Toward Morale

What We Know, And Don’t Quite Know We Know

Leading Without Kitschy Trinkets

Developing & Supporting Our Students: Future Identity Versus No Future Identity

Joyful and Leading With A Touch Of Quirkiness

Loving America

Benevolent Leadership and The Tigress Of Forli

Think Fast & Answer Quickly

 

Do You Have The Inexhaustible Ability To Just Live?

Are You Setting Precedent?

MacGyver Intersectional Leadership

My Top 5 Books Of 2019

I know what you are thinking; I did not answer the original question of what my top five books of 2019 were. Even though I hate doing it, because I have gained so much value from all the books I read, but I won’t let myself of the hook. After a great deal of reflection here they are:

  1. The Tigress Of Forli: Renaissance Italy’s Most Courageous And Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici by Elizabeth Lev
  2. On Grand Strategy by John Lewis Gaddis
  3. The Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics Can Tell Us About Innovation by Frans Johansson
  4. Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide To Creating Customers With Word Of Mouth by Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin
  5. The Pioneers: The Heroic Story Of The Settlers Who Brought The American Ideal West by David McCullough

As you can see, 2019 was quite the year of reading. I am still working on what my reading goal will be for 2020. Remember, leaders are readers! Happy New Year!

 

Think Fast & Answer Quickly

I am reading the great book The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro. This book is about the leadership and power of Robert Moses. One of the strengths and attributes that people he worked with said he had was his ability to think fast and answer quickly. The context was his ability to quickly make a decision when asked a question or asked how to correct something and articulate the answer.

Usually, I consider myself a slow processor. I’m the one that when a meeting is ready to end will have a few questions to be answered or comments to be made. In other words, I’m a processor. This, I believe is very different than thinking fast and answering quickly. Actually, after thinking about this deeply I would argue this is a skill set we should develop and hone. Here’s why: it comes down to actively listening. We must work hard at actively listening. This means carefully listening to the very end. This also means resisting the urge to start formulating the answer before the other person is done asking the question. Concentrating on the question, rather than your answer, will result in a more thoughtful answer.

We are better and more powerful leaders when we are able to think on our feet, gather our thoughts quickly and deliver our points convincingly. The best leaders are able to do this. Think about it; we live in an unscripted world. Therefore, we must prepare ourselves to think fast and answer quickly.

Several years ago I was judging 30-40 sheep, cattle, and hog shows around the nation each year. I always said that many show committees asked me to judge because I was consistent (you always knew what I was going to pick to win, whether you liked my type or not) and I was fast. I could place a class of 30 lambs quickly and accurately. Which meant I could get through a show with 300-400 head without it taking forever. I always advised new judges to work quickly so the crowd didn’t have time to pick different favorites than what they had picked.

A couple of things we can do to hone these skills when being asked questions is to listen for trigger words. Trigger words will prompt you to be thinking about the most important parts of the question or point being made. It shows the listener that you heard their question or concern loud and clear and are addressing in directly and head on.

Another thing that I have to continually work on is giving the short answer first. In other words, get to the point and don’t ramble on. Give the quick answer first and let the other party ask clarifying or follow up questions.

In the end it really comes down to being authentic. We need to answer to the best of our ability and from the heart. Say what we really think.