Byron's Babbles

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

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“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
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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”?

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?

Leading Without Kitschy Trinkets

Many times, as you know, my blog posts come from words or phrases that I hear that inspire me to dig deeper and study. This post is no exception. Yesterday, I heard someone say, and I am paraphrasing,not quoting, here, “I don’t need the kitschy trinkets when morale gets low, just treat us with respect all the time.” This was a pretty powerful statement when you think about employee retention, satisfaction, and the climate and culture of an organization.

Also, I was captured by the word “kitschy”. Of course we had to immediately look it up. What we found was that, first, the person used the word correctly; second, we found that the definition was: something to that appeals to popular or lowbrow taste and is often of poor quality. Sound familiar? Now, you will also find the term “kitsch” used in the art world. Since I believe there is no such thing as bad art, art is beyond taste. Therefore, you can leave your prejudices behind and just be uplifted by art. I’ll bet, however, you have been given things that fit the category of being kitschy.

This really got me to thinking, though, about how we really feel about our employees. Does giving trinkets get us to the level of community we desire. I think not. We must remember it is all about trust. Trust is earned; it is not a transaction. If we want those in our organizations to trust us and we want to inspire commitment, we must make the first move. We want employees to be committed to what we are doing and the mission and vision, but employees many times get the message we aren’t really that committed to them. Kitschy gifts probably exacerbate this belief.

According to Gallup, only 32 percent of employees in the United States are engaged. Now engaged to Gallup means involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. Expand this data analysis worldwide and the number drops to 13 percent. Think about that. 87 percent of employees are unengaged. Pretty sure a kitschy gift won’t change that.

So, what will help us change these numbers? I don’t believe there is a silver bullet here, but I do believe there are some thing central to how leaders can truly become committed to their teams. First, we need to make continuous feedback and coaching central to performance and continuous improvement. This is true whether we are talking a school or manufacturing. I just finished reading a great book on feedback from M. Tamra Chandler entitled Feedback (and other dirty words). It was such an honor to get an advance copy to read. One of my favorite feedback tips in the book is, “Kick Some Ask”. I’ll let you read the book and find out what that is.

Additionally, we need to create and commit to providing development opportunities for both skill and role development. This plays to succession management and employees see you are serious about, and committed to, preparing team members for advancement from within. This also means we need to empower employee connection and collaboration.

I believe if we get these things right and couple this with compensation strategies that are aligned with today’s hyper competitive market, we can begin to chip away at the low employee engagement numbers. So, how about we drop the kitschy trinkets and just treat employees with the respect they deserve and provide the development, space for collaboration, opportunities for advancement, and compensation they deserve?

Triageformational Leadership: New Hybrid Definition of Triage and Transformational Leadership

Screen Shot 2019-06-14 at 2.40.45 PMYou all know how I like to make words up, so here is my latest: Triageformational Leadership. Actually, I made up the word and the definition over a year ago while in a meeting, but am just now blogging about. Does that give you any indication of how long my “want to blog ideas” list is? Anyway, here is the definition: The process of leading by core values to determine and prioritize needed changes so limited resources can be rationed efficiently and effectively to support the organization’s realization of vision and mission.

The important thing to note about triageformational leadership is that that the transformation is done by triaging by using core values. So many times this is given lip service, but not really done. By putting our core values at the forefront of our triageformational leadership we:

  1. determine our school or organization’s distinctives.
  2. dictate personal involvement.
  3. communicate what is important.
  4. embrace positive change.
  5. influence behavior.
  6. inspire people to action.
  7. enhance credible leadership.
  8. shape teaching/employee character.
  9. contribute to educational/organization success.

…it is clearly necessary to invent organizational structures appropriate to the multicultural age. But such efforts are doomed to failure if they do not grow out of something deeper; out of generally held values. ~ Vaclav Havel

So much goes into truly embodying what it means to be a triageformational leader beginning with the sense of community we develop within an organization. Those that I believe that would make great triageformational leaders place a high value on fostering an environment or community of collaboration. This community is balanced, diverse, and equitable. These leaders build community and culture by truly living out their own core values and the organization’s core values. Just like doing triage in an emergency situation, these leaders are prioritizing what gets done next by matching core values to the situation. This in turn brings about transformation and service oriented leadership.

Where Is Your Leadership Engine Order Telegraph Set?

I had the opportunity this past week to visit and tour the SS American Victory Ship and Museum in Tampa, Florida. It is an outstanding icon of America during times of war. I particularly learned a lot from the museum and the person there who answered all my questions and took the time to have a lengthy conversation with me. Before that day I really did not know much about Merchant Marine ships, how they were operated, and the relationship to the US Navy. I’m still pretty ignorant, but I am learning.

The SS American Victory was a Merchant Marine cargo ship that supplied our troops at the end of World War II, and then in the Korean Conflict and Vietnam. This ship hauled ammunition, cargo, and troops. The ship was run by the Merchant Marines, but of the crew of 62 part were US Navy personnel who manned the weapons in case of attack. This ship was launched 74 years to the day (May 24) I was there, in 1945. It only took our patriotic citizens 55 days to build the ship.

The exhibits in the museum are awesome and I had the chance to explore the entire ship. I was especially inspired in the wheel house, or bridge, as I looked out the port hole windows and thought about the decisions leaders had to make on this very deck. Then when I went above to the outdoor wheelhouse deck I studied the Engine Order Telegraph (the featured picture of this post). I immediately realized I had found another great metaphor that I believe represents the ways many organizations, leaders, associations, and governments work. Earlier last week I blogged about metaphors in Leading By Metaphor.

The Engine Order Telegraph, also known as an EOT, is a device that transmitted the orders from the pilot to the engine room. It has slow, half, and full for both ahead and astern (reverse). Also, it has stop, stand by, and finished with engine. As I stood there studying the EOT on a beautiful sunny day in beautiful Tampa Ybor Channel and thought about how these are incredible metaphors for leadership.

On these older style ships the captain didn’t physically control the ship like on today’s ships. On this ship the EOT would telegraph what the captain needed and engineer in the engine room made the adjustments – slow down, open up the throttle, et cetera. I thought about how this ship would have been like an orchestra with the captain as the conductor and the deck and engine crew playing the instruments.

As leaders we have the opportunity be a part of telegraphing full speed ahead, reversing the engines, slowing down, or stand by which I believe is analogous to status quo. I chuckled to myself that the EOT was set to stand by because I am such a status quo hater. If I was captain of a ship it would probably be hard to order stand by. I’m kind of a Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut kind of guy – “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” We all have to make decisions using the best intel available at the time from collaboration with our teams to enter the correct decisions into our metaphorical EOTs. We work in such a high speed environment! Therefore, we must figure out ways for professional growth of our leaders and teams on how to achieve organizational goals in the shortest time possible. We must then also find ways to provide maximum professional growth in the shortest time possible.

Therefore, we need to be ready to ring the bells for full speed ahead, just as Rear Admiral Farragut did in Mobile Bay in 1864. Had those ships not been willing to go ahead full, they probably would not be successful. I can tell you that the SS American Victory Ship and Museum team have their EOT set on full speed ahead for telling the story of the important work of Merchant Marine ships. How about you and your organization? Are you stuck in the status quo of stand by? Or will you make the call for full speed ahead?