Byron's Babbles

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?

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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?

IMG_2007

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!

Four Causes of Unproductive Meetings and What to Do About Them

IMG_2002Four Causes of Unproductive Meetings and What to Do About Them

By Dick Axelrod

Originally published on dickaxe.cayenne.io

  1. Unclear Purpose

Meeting participants are unclear about the purpose of the meeting or what they want to accomplish. Before holding a meeting, ask yourself what you want to be different for yourself, the participants, and the organization as a result of holding this meeting. Make sure you share this purpose with the participants. If you are a meeting participant and don’t know or understand the purpose of the meeting ask, “What is the purpose of this meeting?” at the beginning of the meeting. Then ask yourself, “What can I contribute to make this meeting productive?”

  1. Unclear Roles

It is amazing to find out how many attend meetings where they don’t know why they are there or what is expected of them. We see many leaders who invite people to the meeting because they might provide a different perspective. However, these participants do not know that is what is expected of them. They attend the meeting not knowing why they are there and consequently feel the meeting is a waste of time.

  1. Decision-Makers Not Present

When the meeting participants are not empowered to make decisions, everyone feels their time is wasted. While participants may have fruitful discussions, they must then take their work product to the decision-makers who were not part of the discussion and who may not understand the reasons why recommendations are being made. This additional layer of bureaucracy wastes everyone’s time. Empowering meeting participants to make decisions or having decision-makers present will eliminate this added bureaucracy.

  1. Unclear Decision-Making Process

We have watched many groups flounder because the decision-making process is unclear. They don’t know whether they are being asked to learn about a decision that has already been made, provide the leader with feedback, or be part of the decision-making process. Clarifying the decision-making process prior to starting the discussion saves time and energy.

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stop_meeting_like_this_3dMore about Dick Axelrod

Dick and is wife Emily Axelrod are pioneers in creating employee involvement programs to effect large-scale organization change, and co-founded the Axelrod Group in 1981. Dick is also a lecturer in University of Chicago’s Masters in Threat and Response Management Program, and a faculty member in American University’s Masters in Organization Development program. Dick and Emily created the Conference Model®, an internationally recognized high-involvement change methodology.

Together, Emily and Dick are frequent keynote speakers and co-authors. Their latest book is Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done it outlines a flexible and adaptable system used to run truly productive meetings in all kinds of organizations―meetings where people create concrete plans, accomplish tasks, build connections, and move projects forward.

Plus + / Delta Δ

IMG_1993One of the tools I learned from my work in the Advanced Educational Leadership Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education was how to do a Plus + / Delta Δ session at the end of a convening. I appreciated learning this from Dr. Liz City from Harvard University. She does this at the end of any convening or class I have been involved with. I have found this to be one of the greatest way to really find out what has gone well and what has not.

Here is how it works: At the end of the day or session we put up a board and put a + and a Δ on it. Then open it up to the group to give the positives from the day and the areas of improvement needed. I have found it to be a much more valuable experience if I do not start with positives or negatives and then switch to the other. The way I run the session both +s and Δs can be given together and not in any order. This way of doing it allows for pluses to be thought of when thinking about a delta and visa versa. As the discussion ensues all comments recorded in writing up on a foam board (see blog post picture).

I really believe this model does a couple of important things for the convened community. One big thing this process does is help to bring trust. Nothing can be off the table to bring up. More importantly, once a delta is on the table it is up to the leader/facilitator to make adjustments for the next convener. Or, if it is a plus, how do I, as facilitator continue to make sure this is a plus in the future. The second thing I believe happens using this way of collecting feedback is the depth of the information received and the amount of information. Let’s face it, getting surveys back is tough.

IMG_1979IMG_1971Furthermore, let me give you an example of the great information that a +/Δ session can give at the conclusion of a convening this past weekend. I always have butcher paper and crayons on the tables for participants to take notes, draw, doodle or whatever helps them learn. This convening was no different. The group of teacher leaders and school leaders I was working with were very much into graphic recording, both on the tables and when reporting out from small group work (see inset photos).

IMG_1994During the Plus / Delta session a participant said, “I have one that is both a plus and delta.” I said, “Great, lets talk about it.” She went on to say, “I really like the butcher paper and I took lots notes and made graphic. I really consider it a big plus.” She went on to say, “However, I wish we could use our doodles, notes, and graphics in a more intentional way.” I asked, “What do you mean by that and how could we do that?” The participant said, “Maybe we could do a gallery walk at different times during the day and reflect on the work of our fellow participants.” How cool was that! Participants taking ownership of making a convening designed for them better. It doesn’t get any better than that! I would argue that we would have never got to that level of discussion in a survey. Needless to say, we will build in intentional activities to learn from the butcher paper captured work of our participants. Exciting stuff!

I would encourage you to find your Pluses + and Deltas Δ.