Byron's Babbles

Does Life Imitate Art, Or Art Imitate Life?

I have been spending some time contemplating Oscar Wilde‘s thoughts on art. I love all kinds of art and consider myself an artist in terms of being creative and imaginative. I am definitely more of an artist than technocrat. I always say there is no bad art. You can refute that if you like, but Wilde and I would have been in agreement that artists should not be interested in seeking approval or creating art for demand. The instant artists, or we artistic leaders, begin to seek others approval we lose our creative juices. Think about what it is like when you are working on something and have to keep getting approval. The idiot needing the approval command and control gratification is stifling your creativity and ability to innovate. I recently wrote about this is in Empowerment Triggers The Approach System.

“…the new work of art is beautiful by being what Art has never been.” ~ Oscar Wilde

If you think about it art really means new. To truly be artistic in whatever we do whether it is leading, teaching, building, et cetera, we must be creative and innovating; we need to practice some individualism. Wilde argued “Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.” I believe if we approach everything we do as art, we would probably reach our highest potential.

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” ~ Oscar Wilde

James Ensor (Belgian, 1860 – 1949) Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889, 1888, Oil on canvas 252.7 × 430.5 cm (99 1/2 × 169 1/2 in.), 87.PA.96 The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

If you think about it, leadership and art both bring social encounters to life life. One of my favorite artworks that I believe intersects with leadership is James Ensor‘s painting Christ’s Entry Into Brussels in 1889. The painting, which began expressionism, has Jesus in the middle of a chaotic crowd of very real and very unreal characters. I was first introduced to this painting back in 2012 and then blogged about the inspiration in Rushmorean Servant Leadership. For me it was about Jesus leading from the middle, or amongst us. I do try to lead in that way while being creative. Which still begs the question of whether Wilde was right, does life imitate art or art imitate life?

“It Has Been An Honor To Live This Life”

Posted in Benevolent Leadership, Community, Compassion, Compassionate Leadership, Honor, Leadership, Servant Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 23, 2020

I just finished reading an awesome book: The Warehouse by Rob Hart. I was so blown away by this book that all I have done so far is give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. I will write a review, but really need to think about what I will say to give Hart the justice he deserves. When this book was recommended to me I was reluctant because it is a fiction novel and, as you know, I read non fiction. This book, however, had many great lessons and besides a few twists it could be non fiction. I’m not going to say much more; you can read the book description for yourself. I don’t want to reveal anything that would take away from you enjoying the book as much as I did. All I can say is, you need to read the book. I guarantee you, you will say, “Is this really happening in the world right now?”

There were things said by characters in the book that jumped out at me. I will be blogging about them. One phrase came from Gibson, the founder and CEO of Cloud, the focus of the entire plot. He said, “It has been an honor to live this life.” Because of his business practices this seemed like an odd comment because I found him to be very much like Machiavelli. While Gibson presents everything he does as putting others first and doing what’s best for the world, he also has rules by fear. He is promoting a very socialist/communist way of life by controlling the collective, but making millions and living a luxurious life for himself, while his employees just get by. He is Machiavellian in that he controls with low wages and the fear of employees losing their jobs.

Also, Gibson uses Machiavelli’s rule of “scorched earth”; completely eliminating any competition or potential competitor. He basically puts every other business out of business. No competition – complete control. So, I’m thinking “How can there be any honor in living that life?”

To be clear, Gibson was providing jobs and places to live, but there is clearly a conflict of whether he is doing this “for others” or “to others to make money.” Therefore the question becomes, “What does it mean to live with honor?”

To me, living with honor means living for a cause greater than yourself. It means really having a purpose; not just becoming CEO and making a bunch of money. In other words, am I making a difference? Really that is only a question we can answer for ourself. For me it comes down to the question of, “Are you contributing to the success and happiness of others?” In the case of Gibson I would say “no.” All he did was contribute to his own ego and bank account.

“If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” ~ Former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson

For it to be an honor to live a life I believe there also needs to be honesty and transparency. If that happens the right things will probably be done. We need to be concerned where life is taking us, but we also need to be as concerned, or even more concerned, about how we are getting there. If we truly want to live with honor.

As you can see, this book had a profound impact on me and caused a great deal of reflection. We never know who is watching us or considering as a role model. What do you want them to see. Rather than saying, “It was an honor to live this life.” I would rather someone say of me, “He lived his life with honor.”

Leading With Compassionate Solutions

One of the driving forces of exceptional leadership is compassion. I am working through a situation right now that prompted the much appreciated text pictured above from a staff member and thought partner I am working on the situation with. Usually I pride myself on being very creative and innovative, but to be credited for finding a compassionate solution made me feel good and made me reflect on whether I was consistently a compassionate leader.

To be great, leaders must have the necessary empathy to inspire understanding and knowledge in team members. I teach about this in the leadership trainings I do. Empathy begins with taking an understanding from the experience and perception of another. Empathy, however, is just about understanding. Empathy is about opening doors and removing confusion. Compassion is the action step; compassion is about actually doing something.

The compassionate leader can then be creative in solving situations, problems, and opportunities. Looking for compassionate solutions allows the leader to look past “the easy way out” referenced in the text pictured above. This allows the team to look at challenges as opportunities to be dealt with as obstacles, not barriers. Barriers stop completely and obstacles can be removed, gone around, over, or under. I blogged about this in Obstacles Vs. Barriers. Actually, I said to the author of the above text, “Let’s make sure we look at any challenges as obstacles and not barriers. We are not allowing any barriers.” The compassionate leader seeks to understand people, families, and communities; knowing that understanding is the gateway to having the greatest influence as a leader.

Manatee Leadership Lessons

 

Yesterday, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to learn leadership lessons from the West Indian Manatee. Our Central Florida/Tampa 3D Leadership Program participants decided that we would start our gathering at the Tampa Electric Company Manatee Viewing Center. The Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach delivers reliable electricity to the community. When the Tampa Bay water temperature reaches 68ºF or colder, the Manatees gather in large numbers in the power station’s discharge canal, where saltwater – taken from Tampa Bay to cool Unit 4 flows, clean and warm, back to the bay. The discharge canal is a state and federally designated Manatee sanctuary that provides critical protection from the cold for these unique, gentle animals. It has also been developed into an incredible education center dedicated to the Manatee, Sting Ray, birds, butterflies, and other wildlife and plant life indigenous to the area. I even got to smell the breath of a Manatee. For the farm kid from Indiana this was an incredible experience.

Prior to arriving for the experience I did a a little studying and learned how the Manatee handle thermoregulation by doing central-place grazing. In other words, they go out into the cold bay water to graze on plant life (they are herbivores) and then come back to the warm water near the power plant to get warmed up. I was also able to study the migratory maps of these amazing mammals.

The objective of participants was to come up with the leadership lessons learned from our Manatee experience. Here is what we came up:

  1. Must be caring
  2. Adaptive to change
  3. Lead by example
  4. Able to function alone
  5. Still move forward through the unknown

As you can see there are so many great leadership lessons to be learned from studying and observing these wonderful animals. I have done other blog posts with lessons from animals, such as Pelican Leadership Lessons, Living and Leading Like A Lobster, and Leading Like A Platypus. Using animals as metaphors for great leadership is a great way to learn and teach leadership. Do you have any examples? Share them by replying to my post.

Toy Story 4 Leadership

Don’t laugh, but as I flew across our awesome country yesterday to Palm Springs, California for the 2019 iNACOL (now named the Aurora Institute) Symposium, I was excited to get to watch Toy Story 4. I’m a fan of Toy Story; not just because they are great movies, but also because of the Pixar story and the lessons in the movies. I was certainly not disappointed by the gang of toys getting back together with the addition of new toys. There were so many great connections to the leadership lessons I facilitate in our 3D Leadership program. I even took notes on a napkin.

There were six big standout lessons in the movie:

1. From Forky I was reminded that we need to understand our value and the value others bring to our teams and organizations.

It is so important we know and understand our strengths. Then, it is crucial we have people working to their strengths. Too many times we move people and change roles, sometimes in an attempt to promote, without any regard to whether it is the “right” role based on strengths. Remember, you bring value. Forky needed to realize he was a toy even though not in the traditional sense. He brought value to Bonnie. Let’s not forget, she created Forky.

2. Great leaders are not always seen. Woody was helping Bonnie through her first day of school without her even knowing it. Without being seen Woody got her crayons for her and got her the materials to make Forky. He was helping her, being a servant leader, without her knowing it.

It’s easy to think leaders must be front and center and seen. Leaders don’t have to be seen, though. Leaders can do great work from the background. Great leaders gently guide people without them knowing you were there or were leading them.

3. The toys practiced adaptive leadership. Throughout the entire show, strategy was agile and constantly changing. Interestingly, all the toys led from where they were. Several times during the movie I heard toys say, “I have an idea, let’s do this.” The other toys would then team up and carry it out.

4. Buzz Lightyear led from where he was. Buzz had not really been a leader in the other three Toy Story movies, but he had to step up in this one because Woody wasn’t present. Buzz stepped up and filled the leadership void.

5. At one point in the film, Bo Peep exclaimed to Woody, “Look around, nobody’s with you.” We must remember that leadership is influence and if no one is with us when we turn around we are not having an influence.

6. At one point Woody said, “Because it’s the only thing I have to do.” Woody was resisting transition into another role, or in other words, he was resisting change. Know times of transition are not easy. Yet, to grow, there will always be transitions. Change is a good thing. Don’t let the pain of transitions stop them from happening.

There are so many more lessons in Toy Story 4 to be dissected, but those are my big takeaways for now. If you have watched the film, I would love to hear your takeaways. Let’s keep leading to “infinity and beyond”!

Leadership Dominoes

IMG_7220

“Everything affects everything else in one way or another. Whether you are aware of that or not does not change the fact that this is what is happening. That’s why I say a business is a system. This systems perspective reminds us that this is what is going on. And when you see it this way, you can manage your business better. You appreciate, for example, that any action will reverberate throughout the entire company. This causes you to pay more attention to what you do, and learn the right lessons from your experience.” – John Woods

I use the metaphor of dominoes falling all the time and was reminded that everything affects everything last night at our Tampa, Florida area gathering of 3D Leadership. We did an activity carving pumpkins in the theme of “truths that frustrate me”. As a story was being told about how a Curriculum Resource Teacher (CRT) was covering classes that didn’t have a teacher, because of the teacher shortage, she stated that she loved covering the class and teaching. The problem, however, was that she was very frustrated she was not able to support the teachers that she was responsible for coaching. This really made me think about how this was really two rows of dominoes put in play. I did my best to graphically represent it (shown here in the post). The first row of dominoes was put in play when there was a teacher not available for a class. The second row of dominoes was put in play when the CRT covered the class, even though she loved doing that, and she couldn’t work with the teachers on her coaching load.

IMG_7218Dominoes are actually a learning lesson when it comes to leadership. Up until the time I heard this story originating with a pumpkin carving I had thought of the domino effect in a very linear view. this caused me to think about all the other rows of dominoes that get put into play with just one decision, event, action, or mistake. Regardless of the catalyst that sets the dominoes in motion, it is some type of change. Leaders and organizations need to navigate these changes carefully and be sure the changes, or the people making the changes, aren’t like a bull in a china shop. Sorry for the use of another metaphor. We need to lead with a systemic focus. We need to take into consideration all the interconnected parts of our organizations that could set the domino effect into motion, impacting the success of the change, productivity, effectiveness and lives of those we serve.

Even though all the people and parts of your organization are not dominoes, we would be well served to treat them as such. Our organizations are interconnected systems. Changes in on area have a direct impact on changes in other areas. We need to remember that once dominoes start to topple over, it will take time to get them put back up.

Opportunities To Personalize

Posted in customer service, Leadership, Servant Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 19, 2019
IMG_7077

Dale Presenting Me With M&Ms!

Last spring while attending the 2019 National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) Legislative Conference I had an experience involving M&Ms. I chronicled the experience in Leading With No Brown M&Ms. Then, when I arrived at NASBE’s 2019 Annual Conference, I got my normal text from the Hilton Omaha welcoming me and asking me how my room was. I replied it was great and could use a bowl of M&Ms. I shortly got a text back that they did not have any M&Ms. This really by bummed me out. After my experience at The Madison Hotel (also a Hilton Hotel) where I got M&Ms with the brown ones sorted out. I thought the Hilton Omaha should too.

The next morning I was telling the above story in the breakfast buffet line before our board of directors meeting. Never underestimate the power of someone overhearing your conversation. Dale, of the Hilton Omaha catering staff, had overheard the conversation and took it upon himself to get some M&Ms and proceeded to bring me a bowl of M&Ms into our board meeting. I loved every minute of it. Needless to say everyone else was jealous of this personalized treatment I had received. The big story here is the customer service that Dale had provided. He heard my disappointment and made my experience memorable.

IMG_7076Dale’s level of excellence did not stop there, however. He proceeded to have a bowl of M&Ms delivered to every session I was in. I became the hit of whatever sessions I was in as everyone knew I would have M&Ms at every session. Customers have now come to expect remarkable service from every support organization they engage with. And, with that standard set, it becomes even more imperative for your service team to go above and beyond the customer’s expectations. This kind of above-and-beyond service will build great relationships and generate very positive word-of-mouth among your customers. Ultimately, this differentiates us from our competitors.

While it is great for support teams to be able to meet our initial needs, surpassing our expectations is a great way for our organizations to stand out and create a memorable experience. In other words, go above and beyond when it is not expected. Customers who are surprised with expected moments of delight are more likely to be loyal to your brand over time.

IMG_7138Unfortunately, every day won’t present the opportunity to create a customer service story that goes viral, but there is always the opportunity to personalize an experience for a customer. Dale took advantage of this opportunity by going and getting a party size bag of M&Ms and making sure I always had M&Ms available. He even put the bag of the remaining M&Ms in my room this morning. The goal should be for us to create a customer service experience that is valuable to the customer beyond the just the product.

Benevolent Leadership

Posted in Benevolent Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadery, Servant Leadership, Visionary Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 27, 2019

I am reading a really interesting book, Tigress of Forli, right now about Caterina Riario Sforza. She was a great leader who started her leadership journey at age 10 in an arranged marriage. It caught my attention when the author, Elizabeth Lev, described Caterina as a “benevolent leader”. She was described as making sure the needs of her people and of the greater community were cared for. I then began to think about what it meant to be a benevolent leader or policy maker.

Being a benevolent leader has nothing to do with being a philanthropist, a humanitarian, or being altruistic. It’s about creating greater opportunities for our communities, states, nations, and the world. It’s really about creating different possibilities in the world. It’s about, as Caterina taught us, developing a sustainable future for the world and everyone living in it. Additionally, benevolent leaders use their leadership influence to address significant societal, human, and environmental needs. Really it is about being innovative for the greater good.

Think about a world where leaders wished well for everyone. I believe it is about being aware of what one’s actions create for everyone. This is what I talk about when complaining about turf and self-interest. I have blogged about this in The Frustrating Truth Of Turf. It is difficult for us, at times, to get past what might look best for us and think about the good of all.

Last evening in our Carolinas session of 3D Leadership we discussed becoming more externally oriented as opposed to internally motivated in order to move from serving to create normal leadership to facilitating fundamental leadership. We concluded this would give us more episodes of excellence. The driving question becomes, “What can we create together?” Also, what if we began to look at what could be expanded, instead of what has to be cut?

The world is a system. I believe we forget this at times. Every decision made either creates or depletes the ability to collaboratively innovate for the betterment of all. How about you? Are you wishing well for all? I’m so glad I had the opportunity to study Caterina Riario Sforza and the example of a benevolent leader.

Preaching From The Office

Last night we had a great 3D Leadership gatherings in Indianapolis. One of the cool things we did was have a good leader/bad leader discussion. With this we discussed good leadership traits and bad leadership traits. Then by writing good leader traits on the right wing of gliders and bad leader traits on the left wing and throwing them to each other, we developed a top 5 good leader traits and top 5 bad leader traits.

One of the top 5 bad leader traits was “Preaching From The Office”. Bottom-line: the pull to stay in the office can be great. It takes a love of the people and the work to throw oneself into the work, for leaders to leave their offices. The best leaders, according to the teacher leaders I was working with last night, get out of their offices. Here’s why:

  1. When we get out of our offices we give encouragement to those we serve.
  2. When we get out of our offices we discover the amazing people in our organizations. This enables us to get to know those we serve.
  3. When we get out of our offices we collaborate. This allows us to see the organization from all vantage points. Thus we would avoid making decisions in isolation.
  4. When we get out of our offices we see where the vision has leaked, excellence has slipped, and communication has faltered.
  5. When we get out of our offices we are able to tweak and make changes with knowledge, clarity, and credibility.

As you can see this bad leader trait has serious implications. The good news is, it is easily fixed. Get out of your office. You will gain insight and those you serve will love having you in the trenches.

Less “Why” and More “How To”

IMG_6531Recently, I was sitting in on some teacher professional development sessions and I looked over at a teacher’s notes and saw that he had written, “I need less ‘why’, and more ‘how to”. This really struck me because I had just interrupted an earlier session to see how many really thought they would be able to jump right in and do the task being trained on – some thought they could, but many wanted to try it and then have someone ready to help them. Having spent most of my career in the classroom I knew it was thing to have been shown how to do something, and then actually doing it when there were 30+ young scholars staring you in the face.

After seeing this note, I began to think about whether we had become so enamored with always explaining the “why” that we were missing the mark on the “how”. Clearly in these trainings we were for at least one participant. This struck home with me because I believe in my own world I get a lot of “why”, and then there are very few who really understand the “how”. As you will find later in this post, we need both.

I told the teacher after the session that I had seen his note and was interested. He told me it was not being critical, but he needed more time on how to do some of the tasks than so much time on why. I told him this made total sense. Really, the why should be about the vision in a quick statement of the importance and not a dissertation, or what turns into a chance for the presenter to pontificate and gain self gratification. Many times, I have found, this is because the person presenting does not understand how to do the task very well themselves.

The more I thought about this, I realized we have become very “into” talking about the “why” of everything. I get it! I really do, but because of all the writing about the “why” I believe we are forgetting to develop the “how” to the same extent. Even though the title of Simon Sinek’s great book Start With Why focuses on the “why,” he still told us that there must be those doing the “how.” For example, without Roy Disney, Walt Disney’s vision would never have been carried out. Thinking about all this brought to mind one of my favorite parts of L. David Marquet’s great book Turn The Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders. Marquet explained to us in the book that when practicing intent-based leadership, where everyone is a leader, we must provide the needed technical training or it will be chaos. Genius, right! I might know “why” I need to put a fire out on a submarine, but if I don’t know “how” it becomes a bigger problem. So I might add to Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, “Finish With How”.

Think about it from a school perspective; if I spend an hour telling you how important taking accurate attendance is each period for high school students and why each period will be analyzed and rolled into the daily attendance, but then don’t spend the majority of the time making sure you understand the management program (technology) and how to use it, I have failed you. Also, we would need to make sure you understand the best practices of taking proper attendance at the beginning of the period and then updating for individual circumstances that happen during the period. I believe you get the idea, but it has become to easy and “cool” to just spend time on the “why” because that is the latest buzz phrase – “gotta tell them the why.” I’m cool with that, but make sure I understand “how to” too!

How about you? Do you need less “why”, and more “how to”?