Byron's Babbles

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My son Heath’s Pin Oak Tree

Fostering Innocence

Recently, in a meeting, someone made the comment that we need to create places where innocence is fostered for our children. This really got me thinking about how we do this both with our own children and the students we serve in our schools. The notion of innocence refers to children’s simplicity, their lack of knowledge, and their purity not yet spoiled by mundane affairs. Such innocence is taken as the promise of a renewal of the world by the children. One of the most delightful things about children is their sense of innocence and wonder, yet helping them maintain that sense of wonder can be challenging in our sophisticated, hurried society.

Knowledge Ruining Innocence

This rapid and early gain of knowledge by our children is quite the paradox. We all know that knowledge is powerful, but when children learn the wrong things to early it can really be detrimental. Vast amounts of knowledge and information is readily available to our children, and we, as parents, want our children to have this knowledge because we believe it will help them grow and compete. However, this same knowledge can ruin their innocence.

What Can We Do?

Have fun. Build time into your schedule to allow for silliness, downtime, and play.

Leverage nature. Children are instinctively attuned to the wonders of nature. We do not have to prompt students to enjoy playing in the mud, seeing the beauty of flowers, watching kittens play. I love the idea I heard one time of planting a family tree and then having family time at each season change to note changes in the tree. My family has a Pin Oak tree that my son brought home from school when he was in the fourth grade that we use for this. In fact, I blogged about this tree in Lesson Of A Pin Oak. Now, it is a beautiful iconic part of our yard (pictured in this post).

Reading together. This is so important and can still be done with high-schoolers. I chose to read the same books my son had to read for school. Wow, what great conversations this spurred for he and I. All I can say is, “try it.”

Use technology wisely and discreetly. Children should not be burdened with information that is too adult in nature. They have neither the cognitive nor social-emotional skills to process this information.

Family events. Or, family events where the children bring a friend. We do a lot of family activities and my son and I have always done Dad and Lad events/trips. The beauty of these is that we control the content.

This is way too complex an issue to solve with a blog post, but I believe we all need to be reflecting on creating places of innocence. Most importantly we need to be mindful of what our children are being exposed to and give them more age appropriate choices.

Play Chess, Not Checkers

IMG_5092Good Leaders Play Checkers.

Great Leaders Play Chess!

Great leaders recognize that each piece on the chess board is different. You cannot play the game (lead), much less win the game, if you do not appreciate, leverage, and deploy each of the pieces in their own unique and individual way.

So today, I facilitated a professional development session for Georgia and Florida principals that I title “Play Chess, Not Checkers.” I started off by asking two questions:

  1. What are the differences between checkers and chess?
  2. What must you be able to do to win at chess?

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a picture of the notes we took during discussion:IMG_5468

Here are some quotes from the day that stood out:

“What can I attack now, and what can wait.”

“Do You have the skills to pivot?”

“We need big vision protectors.”

“The wrong player changes the entire game.”

“What happens when you hire a leader who runs it like a checker game, instead of chess?”

For this next quote I need to put up the graphic I drew:

This was such a great discussion. And, of course, we could not move on without having them create their own model the ideal leadership chess game. Check out this video of their creation:

As you can see this was a very inspirational and meaningful discussion. We gave a lot of thought to how we lead and the environment we create by using the context of playing chess. How about you? Do you lead like a chess or checkers player?

 

 

Puzzling Leadership

As you know, the first step in putting a puzzle together is to look at the picture on the box to see what the completed puzzle will look like. As a leader, we need to have a vision (picture) of the final product, and what it is you are trying to accomplish. But, what happens when the puzzle pieces are blank and there is no picture on a box?

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to put a puzzle together if you do not know what the picture looks like. It is also difficult to be a good leader if you do not know what you are trying to accomplish. But, if there is a vision and plan the leaders can create the picture and paint the picture one puzzle piece at a time.

I witnessed this yesterday at our Carolinas gathering of our Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership Program. Our theme for the day was “Setting The Leadership Table.” The main activity of the day involved telling the story. The only catch was that participants had to tell the story by planning and doing a luncheon telling the story of the North and South Carolina schools with the decorum, appetizers, salad, main course, and dessert. There was a budget provided and the participants had two hours to plan, go get supplies, prepare the food, decorate the room, and have their story ready for stakeholder guests to arrive for the luncheon. Here was the agenda for the day:

I loved the planning discussion that ensued. Here are phrases and things that were said that jumped out at me during the discussion:

Now, back to the puzzle metaphor. The participants decided to use a puzzle through line for the luncheon. Genius! Here’s the cool part; the same rules of making a puzzle applied to leadership and successful completion of the project. Here are the steps:

Step #1-Have a vision, know what you want to accomplish

Step #2-Get to know your group members. Interestingly, we talked about this in our “what did you learn” time afterward. It was discussed that the event would not have been near as successful back in January when the group came together for the first time.

Step #3-Identify leadership qualities you will need to be an effective leader

Step #4-Follow the guidelines

Step #5-Understand your importance, where you fit, and what you have to offer. This was a topic many reflected on following the luncheon.

So, here’s the deal: everyone had responsibilities and had to complete a puzzle piece and write the story for their school’s part of “Team Carolina.” I also was asked to complete a piece of the puzzle representing Noble Education Initiative’s (NEI) role in the puzzle of support for the Carolinas.

What we found was that creating the puzzle pieces for our puzzle used the same leadership principles needed for forming an effective team. When forming a group of individuals into a team, you must first figure out the following:

  • Strengths, What are the individual strengths of each one? How can the strength of one, build up the weakness of another?
  • Shape, What does each individual bring to the table as far as expertise and knowledge? Just like a puzzle piece each one will have something to share to the greater picture or vision your trying to create.
  • Edges, Which individuals define the shape and scope of your vision? There will be some that will have definitive edges that will build the foundation of your team, therefore making the picture clearer to all who view it.
  • Odd shapes, Which individuals appear, at first , not to fit into the picture? There will be those that don’t look like they are going to fit or add value to our vision or picture. Sometimes, these are the very pieces that end up truly fitting in and adding a lot of value to the team, making the overall picture clearer.

As I watched the participants put their pieces together and tell their school’s story, they did a great job of keeping the overall picture in view. So many times we lose focus on the overall picture and what do we do? We start to panic and cram pieces together. This is when we are no longer leading but are dictating and mission creep begins to take over. Or even worse, we begin to lose puzzle pieces, and we all know what’s it’s like to put a puzzle together with missing pieces.

The beautiful thing is, that when we do get all the pieces together we have created a beautiful picture, a real team (not just a bunch of individuals), and a true network of schools. How is your organization’s puzzle coming together?

Leading Without Surprises

In Gem #18 entitled, “No One Likes Surprises” in 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart I was reminded that there are three types of news:

  1. Good news
  2. Bad news
  3. No news

Stewart told us that people love good news the most and hate no news. With this I was reminded that no one likes to be surprised unless it is a party, an award, or a call/visit from someone special we haven’t seen for a while.

We need to be reminded of this every so often (probably often). I just had a situation where I did this. It wasn’t really good or bad news (it was a good thing that I was going to be doing) but it was something I needed to discuss with those above me. I had just got busy and had not had the conversation. I was in the wrong here, make no mistake. Let me tell you, I took responsibility and apologized. By the way, it worked out ok because I work with great leaders who understand when you take responsibility for your own actions. It is best to report news at at the first point at which we know it.

“Diplomacy and timing are important; but whenever possible, avoid delaying the sharing of news (however bad) with your boss, your team, or your customers.” ~ John Parker Stewart

Now I know some of you are saying, “yes but sometimes news needs to be timed right.” I get that, but not providing news gives others the opportunity to write the narrative. My experience has been, when we allow someone else to tell and set the narrative of our news it usually is not reported correctly. Can you remember a time when this happened to you?

So, let’s all remember, we really don’t like surprises and report information and news we have whether it’s good or bad.

Improving To Great

In Gem #17 entitled, “Good IsThe Enemy Of Great” in 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart we are reminded that we need to adopt a culture where every aspect of the organization can be improved. “Good is the enemy of great” are the opening words of “Good to Great,” the best-selling iconic book by preeminent leadership and management thought leader Jim Collins.

In order to do this we must surround ourselves with the right people. Collins taught us to have the right people in the right seats on the bus.

Additionally, we need to remember that the journey to great is just that, a journey. This journey should not end. Once you think you are great, you have nowhere to go but down. Very few organizations ever achieve greatness, even though at times leaders and those who they lead may use that term to describe their organizations.

Many times we are blinded by the facts. We get lulled into thinking everything is going great. We must be open to looking at all the brutal facts about our organizations. Let’s take a moment and think about our leadership style and the culture of our organizations. Should any changes be made?

The Anatomy Of An Idea

Leaders speak last. I really believe in this and try to practice it. When you’re the last to speak, you empower those you lead to voice their opinions and ideas without you butting in. You also become smarter as a leader, since you get to hear all your employees’ thoughts and suggestions. I was reminded of how much I believe in this while reading Gem #14 entitled, “In The Decision Making Process, Voice Your Opinion Last” in 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart . If we are always giving the answer first, sooner or later, your discouraged team members will stop sharing any ideas, and that kills communication in your organization.

Also, watch how you ask questions and make comments. Again, speak last. Watch comments like the following:

• “Here’s the problem, here’s what I think… What do you think?”

• “Before you go into that, let me just say one thing first…”

• “I understand where you’re coming from, but I think…”

Furthermore, pay attention to your nonverbal clues. Avoid giving away any verbal or non-verbal cues, like shaking or nodding your head, or gesturing with your hands. Make no mistake, I am not saying I’m good this, but I work really hard at speaking last.

So, next time you have decisions to make, speak last. I guarantee you will see how the quality and creativity of the discussion will improve exponentially.

Servant Leadership; Not Just Cliche`

Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and ResultsServant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results by Kenneth H Blanchard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I began reading Servant Leadership in Action from a somewhat jaded view. It had seemed to me that the term and thought of servant leadership has become somewhat of just a cliche`. I have watched leaders become doormats in the guise of being a servant leader. Or poor leaders making the excuse of not producing because of being a servant leader. This book reminds us that servant leadership is about influence and action and not just cliche`. My favorite thing about this book is all the great leaders that Ken Blanchard had write chapters, or really essays, that are collected in the book. I have read most, if not all, of the books by many of the chapter authors in this book. It is a great review of many of the great leaders of our time. We are guided through how to truly be a servant leader to those we serve. We are taught that servant leadership is about relationships and a desire to lift up those around us. Great leaders, we are reminded, are always looking for ways to develop and advance those in their organizations. This book is designed in six sections to help us understand how to do this. Additionally we are given exemplars that have been lifted up as the models for servant leadership. If you want to do more for the people you serve and care more about people, then read this book to learn how to empower them to use common sense and good judgment. you want to start catching people doing the right things, and great things, read this book!
~Dr. Byron L. Ernest

View all my reviews

Leadership Algorithms

This past Tuesday I facilitated a gathering of our South Carolina 3D Leadership Program cohort. The through line was “Your Leadership Toy Box.” The idea was to use toys to discover ways to be focused leaders. At the beginning of the gathering I had each participant grab a toy and answer the question of how the toy they chose represented leadership. Participants were given 10 minutes to prepare a response in any format they chose. Needless to say, the responses were awesome, inspiring, and most importantly – FUN!

One of the toys chosen was a Rubik’s Cube. As was the plan, this toy caused a lot of reflection, and even more for me after the participant reported out. Click below to watch the video of her presentation: Leadership Algorithms. It’s awesome!

Her reflection really got me to thinking about leadership and education. I thought about how this game reveals lessons that we all face as educators and leaders. Every year, we encounter and solve challenges that must be addressed on several levels, just as the Rubik’s Cube must be solved side by side and layer by layer. Every day teachers make decisions before, during, and after classroom lessons to successfully engage students and lead the learning process, maneuvering through numerous machinations to address diverse learning styles and skills. This is what teacher leaders do. School leaders must search for ways to enable continual school improvement, which requires school leaders to study, plan, implement, analyze, react, and adjust throughout the decision-making and implementation processes. These are the same skills and actions necessary to conquer the Rubik’s Cube.

So what did we learn from the Rubik’s Cube algorithms? Leadership requires us to step back from time to time and re-assess the situation in order to move forward. Successful leaders are continually convening the team to assess and re-assess processes in order to improve. We also learned that making one twist of the cube leads to multiple changes on the cube. When we make changes as leaders, we have to understand there is a ripple effect that affects the team and the organization. Leadership is so much like the Rubik’s Cube because to be a successful leader, we must think several moves ahead of the one we are actually working on. In talking to those who have solved the Rubik’s Cube, they tell me you have to think ahead and there are algorithms. What is your leadership algorithm?

What Do You Think?

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Governor Eric Holcomb

I had the opportunity to meet with an impressive group of community leaders this past Friday. As we continue to work through the guidance and implementation of our new Indiana Graduation Pathways, of which I chaired the panel that created this policy, we are working very hard to learn from the groups in the state that have been doing this work already and successfully. The Community Education Coalition and Economic Opportunities through Education (EcO) Network in southeast Indiana is one such group that brings educators, manufacturing leaders, workforce, and community-based organizations together to coordinate and align educational program offerings for students to successfully connect with well-paying manufacturing occupations.

Last year, the Indiana State Board of Education was charged with establishing graduation pathways per HEA 1003. The goal was to create an educated and talented workforce able not just to meet the needs of business and higher education, but also have students able to succeed in all post-secondary endeavors. To account for the rapidly changing, global economy, every K-12 student needs to be given the tools to succeed in some form of quality post-secondary education and training, including an industry recognized certificate program, an associate’s degree program, or a bachelor’s degree program. Every student should graduate from high school with 1) a broad awareness of and engagement with individual career interests and associated career options, 2) a strong foundation of academic and technical skills, and 3) demonstrable employability skills that lead directly to meaningful opportunities for post-secondary education, training, and gainful employment. During the process of our panel convenings we did a lot of asking, “What do you think?” Now, thanks to the Community Education Coalition we are able to continue to ask “what do you think?” as we work through making sure schools are able to put the pathways in place for students. We are so grateful that they put the event together last week that included Governor Eric Holcomb, State Legislators and Policy Makers, business and industry leaders, higher education leaders, K-12 school leaders, and most importantly students. There was a lot of question asking and learning going on.

IMG_2035The partners and facilitators of the Community Education Coalition and EcO initiatives have learned to make inquiry a habit of mind, thereby initiating a long-term commitment to continual improvement and growth. This coalition has developed an outstanding process that uses the questions of “who?, why?, what?, and how?” in order to identify key community issues. You can bet the four words of, “What do you think? are asked in this process. Essential to the success of this process was collaboration with colleagues across different disciplines for clarifying their questions and for understanding and analyzing the data they collected. For example, data like: high school graduation rate, education attainment growth, STEM enrollment growth rate, GDP per capita, employment growth, and average annual wages are used as outcomes to measure success.

IMG_2005This data is then able to be used by stakeholders to answer the questions of “who?, why?, what?, and how?” and the question of: What do you think? We are reminded of how important these four words are in Gem #7 entitled “Four Magic Words: ‘What do you think’” in 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. In this lesson Stewart reminds us that leaders often fall into the trap of assuming they have the right answer. I am also reminded of the teaching of one of my heroes in community work, Peter Block, who believes that effective leaders are not problem solvers, but conveners of communities of people to solve issues.

“Using these four inclusive words [What do you think?] is evidence of an effective and healthy leader who actively listens to the input of the members of the team.” ~ John Parker Stewart

All research is messy and recursive; and it has been my experience that collaborative inquiry is more so because no one knows the end. You are not starting with answers, but with questions. Throughout the process, partners reflect on what is being observed and found out. The stakeholders may change direction, ask new questions, challenge the inconsistencies they discover, seek new perspectives, and fill gaps in their information. During our gathering on Friday we were reminded over and over that the process of connecting the stakeholders is more important than looking at programs. It would be very hard to replicate programs in all parts of the state, but it would not be hard to replicate the process of deciding what programs are needed and developing programs specific to each area. It is all about bringing collaboration to scale.

To do this we must remember to ask the pertinent questions, listen, and ask “what do you think?”

The Servant Leadership: Self-Esteem Connection

IMG_2023The Servant Leadership: Self-Esteem Connection

By Ken Blanchard

Originally Appeared on the Ken Blanchard Companies Blog 

Servant leadership is best described as an others-focused form of leadership. It’s not an easy model to follow for leaders who believe in commanding and controlling their people—but it is easy for leaders with high self-esteem. Such people have no problem giving credit to others. They have no problem listening to other people for ideas. They have no problem building other people up. They don’t see praising others as a threat to themselves in any way. People with high self-esteem buy into the ancient Chinese philosophy of Lao Tzu:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists; when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, ‘We did it ourselves.’” 

Leaders who place themselves in the center of the universe and think everything must rotate around them are really covering up not-okay feelings about themselves. This is an ego problem that manifests as either fear or false pride. When you don’t feel good about yourself, you have two choices. You can either hide and hope nobody notices you, or you can overcompensate and go out and try to control your environment. I think people who feel the need to control their environment are just scared little kids inside.

I learned from the late Norman Vincent Peale that the best leaders combine a healthy self-acceptance with humility.  Norman liked to say, “Leaders with humility don’t think less of themselves—they just think about themselves less.” To me, this approach sounds like a great way to begin for an aspiring servant leader.

Coaching and Self-Esteem

To me, servant leadership is a good way to describe the role that managers are expected to play today to help their people win. Judging and evaluating people erodes their self-esteem, but servant leadership builds self-esteem and encourages individual growth while attaining the organization’s objectives.

Servant leadership is something people need. Leaders need to support and help individuals in the organization to win. The days of the manager being judge, jury, and critic are over. Today, a manager needs to be a cheerleader, facilitator, and listener. Managers who are servant leaders are the ones most likely to achieve both lasting relationships and great results. 

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servant_leadership_in_action_3dMore about Ken Blanchard

Ken Blanchard is a best-selling business author with over 21 million books sold. His newest book, Servant Leadership in Action, is being released on March 6. Ken is also hosting a free Servant Leadership in Action Livecast on February 28 featuring more than 20 authors, CEOs, and thought leaders speaking on the topic.  Learn more here!