Byron's Babbles

The Tension Of Spinning The Plates

Gem #2 was titled “An Action Deferred Is A Tension Retained” in the great book, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. I loved the metaphor he used for this gem of the circus act of spinning plates. In fact I used this same metaphor in my blog post My New Leadership Talent: Spinning Plates! The question really becomes paradoxical as to whether we should be spinning plates, or at the very least how many we should be spinning. The point of Stewart’s gem was that all of the tasks we have cause anxiety (tension) and we need to make sure and prioritize and not procrastinate.

“You are the willing and unwilling recipient of countless actions from work, home, school, and community. It can be overwhelming to process and complete all of these tasks, especially when you procrastinate or don’t prioritize. ~ John Parker Stewart

We all know how the plate spinning act works, right? The performer starts with one plate and once she gets it spinning, adds another, then another. At some point the performer has to back to the first plate and give it a spin to keep it going. Doesn’t this sound familiar in our day to day lives as leaders? The performance typically ends when one of two things happens – the performer runs out of plates, or he takes too much time adding a new plate to the rotation, and another plate slows down enough to wobble out of control and fall off the rod, crashing to the ground in a thousand pieces. Doesn’t this even sound more familiar?

A few things we need to remember. It’s much easier to start something than it is to keep it going. Therefore we need to think about what we start and can we and our team handle it. We have to achieve balance by spreading time across all the spinning plates. This means we need to think strategically about what we should be taking on. Then once started complete the task/project so that it does not become a wobbling plate and fall off the stick.

As a leader we must also keep our eye on all of the plates to avoid catastrophe. We don’t always need to be, and shouldn’t be, the one keeping all the plates spinning, but we do need to be watching to make sure the plates are still spinning. This is where I like to think about what do I have my hands “on” versus what do I have my hands “in”.

It’s a delicate balance, and I must tell you; I’m not very good at it at times. Each plate must spin fast enough but not too fast, and you have to pay enough attention to all but not too much to any particular one. So therefore we must continue to improve our ability to prioritize, enable others, and not procrastinate. How are you at spinning plates?


Share The Success

I hope we all realize the way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit for doing them. In fact, I recently blogged about this in Learning To Appreciate All Who Contribute To The Success while writing about one of my heroes, President Harry S. Truman. This again came up during a Principals training this past week and then again today when I started reading the great book, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. I love his books and love the fact it is written with 52 lessons. I am reading one per week and most times these will prompt blog posts like this one. Last year I read, 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader another great book by John Parker Stewart. This book was truly 52 lessons that made me think about my own leadership and how to practice continuous improvement and honing of those skills. This is a book that prompted reflection and thought on my own leadership style and that style’s impact on those I lead.

The first lesson in the book was entitled: “It’s amazing what can be accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit.” In this chapter, Stewart talked about how the need for personal recognition can become a stumbling block for a team’s success. Let’s face it, we are most fulfilled when we forget ourselves and focus on others.

“Victory is much more meaningful when it comes not from one person, but from the joint achievements of many. The euphoria is lasting when all participants lead with their hearts, winning not just for themselves but for one another.” ~ Howard Schultz

Here are some steps to sharing success:

  1. Listen
  2. Establish a clear and shared vision
  3. Lose your ego
  4. Share the workload (who is doing what?)
  5. Show appreciation to your colleagues
  6. Trust your teammates
  7. Strategize together
  8. Mentor your team
  9. Nurture your team
  10. Champion and cheerlead your team

Great leaders are able to lead from the back, empowering and motivating their team, which in turn leads to outstanding individual performances, loyalty and hard work. Are you sharing the success?

Educator Reflections On This NCLB Anniversary Day

It all started in 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson, as part of The Great Society program, created The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA created a clear role for the federal government in K-12 policy, offering more than $1 billion a year in aid under its first statutory section, known as Title I, to districts to help cover the cost of educating disadvantaged students. At the bill signing in Johnson City Texas, President Johnson said, “As a son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty.” Then on January 8, 2002 President George W. Bush signed into law No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This bill was born out of concern that the American education system was not competitive­­ in a global economy.

NCLB increased the federal role in holding schools responsible for the academic progress of all students. Even though over the years there has been controversy over the effects of NCLB, I believe it is important to note the desire of progress for all students. As a believer that all students can learn and all students deserve a great school regardless of zip code, I would argue that NCLB helped us make strides in the right direction. It put a special focus on ensuring that states and schools improved the performance of certain groups of students, such as English-language learners, students in special education, and poor and minority children, whose achievement, on average, trailed their peers. NCLB really creates the environment for focusing on eliminating the achievement gap. NCLB put us on the trajectory to begin to focus on student outcomes instead of inputs or outputs. These outcomes enable us to tell the stories about our students, about who they are, what they want, and what they are achieving.

As a teacher during the passage and majority of the tenure of NCLB I appreciated the critical view of teaching and requirement of “highly qualified” teachers. I believe this was a precursor to teaching being a more highly regarded profession and teachers being treated like professionals. We still have a long way to go, but with ESSA we now have the opportunity to further the development of teacher leaders to build more capacity for distributed leadership. On this anniversary of NCLB we need to celebrate advancement of disaggregating data and recognizing areas for improvement and our continued commitment, as a country, to address long-standing gaps and ensure students are well-prepared for their post-secondary endeavors.

Status Quo Does Not Need To Be Staffed

The other day in a meeting a discussion about staffing came up. Those who know me know that I am very much a believer in empowering leaders. Also, remember that I as a believer in David Marquet’s Intent-Based Leadership, I believe everyone is a leader. So, all staff are leaders in my mind and should be treated as such. This discussion revolves around a board I am on, not my day job.

The discussion revolved around just how empowered staff should be. Once again, as a believer in Intent-Based Leadership, I want all staff to be in a position of leadership and saying, “I intend to.” I have always loved saying “Make it so” to employees. The person I was talking to, who agrees with me, made the greatest comment. He said, “Remember, Byron, status quo does not need to be staffed.” This is so true.

The whole issue being discussed was around how much autonomy staff should have and their role in decision making. Needless to say, those wanting status quo do not want staff doing to much, if anything. How sad is that. Great employees with no empowerment. I can’t even get my mind wrapped around the concept. But the idea that “status quo does not need to be staffed” helps frame the situation and is enlightening.

Think about it, if the only goal is status quo, then what is the organization really doing? Not much! I guess if status quo is the objective, then the organization probably does not need any “rock star” employees. I continue to be amazed at the number of leaders who lead with a status quo mentality. That is certainly not me. In fact, you could probably fault me for wanting to be in a constant state of continual improvement and change.

Now, I am not saying we should be in a constant flux of change, but we should always be looking for at least subtle ways to continually improve, or what I call, iterating. We don’t necessarily need to always think disruptive change – even though disruptive change is necessary at times. We need to also think about what tweaks and improvements can be made. This is where having a great staff comes in and is very necessary.

While status quo needs no staff, leading great organizations and creating social change does. If we want to change the world we need great staffs who are prepared to say, “I intend to,” so you can say “Make it so!”

What Difference Has Been Made?

Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to have a discussion during a meeting about outcomes versus outputs. I made the comment that I believed in accountability based on outcomes. The person I was meeting with said he was glad I said outcomes versus saying outputs. If we get stuck just evaluating and making decisions based on outputs we are bound for mediocrity. Great organizations, including schools, are managing to outcomes. In education, I believe we need to lead schools according to outcomes.

What do I mean by this? Let’s use the example of graduation rate. Make no mistake, this is an important output, but it is just that – an output. If we change our thinking to outcomes we look at what students are actually doing (or could be doing) after graduation. To me, this enables us to understand how our schools are serving students and how their lives and circumstances are being changed.

An outcome is the level of performance or achievement that occurred because of the activity or services an organization or school provided. Outcome measures are a more appropriate indicator of effectiveness. Outcomes quantify performance and assess the success of the organization and the processes used. In the high school graduation rate example, some outcomes would be is the student employed, is the student in the military, or is the student attending some post secondary education. Graduation rate, an output, alone does not demonstrate how the life of the student had been impacted. Basically, without outcomes, there is no need for outputs.

Furthermore, outputs are the what. Outcomes are the difference made. In other words, outcomes are the why. Sometimes I worry there is a perception that it is too hard or impossible to measure outcomes and that stops us, as leaders, from collecting key outcomes data. We need to work toward thinking more about outcomes. In the case of schools this will enable us to tell the stories about our students, about who they are, what they want, and what they are achieving.

Finally, if we study outcomes we can answer the question: What difference has been made?


I just finished an awesome book to finish out my 2017 reading challenge. In fact I read 90 books with a goal of 87 for 2017. The great book I just finished was, Leading Like Madiba: Leadership Lessons From Nelson Mandela by Martin Kalungu Banda. Kalungu-Banda taught us in this book that great leaders create trails that we can follow to find our own greatness. This does not mean we become their clones –that would be impossible, and anyway it would mean losing the rich variety of our personalities. But these great people inspire us as role models and their example helps us see what to aim for as we nurture our own style.

At the end of the book Kalungu-Banda gave us ten guidelines for leadership growth that he called: “Madiba path to leadership.” Here they are:

  1. Cultivate a deep sense of awe for human beings. Leadership is about people, and every single person matters. Mr Mandela, like Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa, did not have a business plan to begin his mission. He just had a deep-seated respect for people.
  2. Allow yourself to be inspired by the giftedness of other people. In a practical way, show that you recognise that every person has special gifts to use for their own wellbeing as well as for their community or organization.
  3. Grow your courage. Great leaders have courage. This does not mean absence of fear but learning how to recognise your fears, face the harsh realities of your situation, and nevertheless choose to follow what you consider the right course of action. At first this is not easy to do. Repeated practice will help you build courage as one of your virtues.
  4. ‘Go and preach the Gospel. Where necessary, use words.’ Lead by example. You should not ask of others what you are not ready to do yourself. Leading by action, you will inspire people more than by simply telling them what needs doing. Your active role will leave a deep and lasting impression on those you are privileged to lead.
  5. Create your own brand of leadership. A leader’s name and image must be consistently related to a set of values. This is what makes you really effective. When people think of you as a leader, they must immediately think of your principles. These are essential to guide your organisation or community through the various ethical conundrums they will inevitably have to face.
  6. Practice humility. Great leaders acknowledge their failings. Instead of making people lose faith in you, admitting your mistakes and limitations will draw people to help and work with you. By being able to apologise for your wrongs, you send the message that the search for right thought and action is a common enterprise. It is not owned or controlled by you or any other leader.
  7. Learn to live with the Madiba paradox. Life is a mix of hope and hopelessness, joy and pain, success and failure, vision and disillusionment. You as a leader have the task of helping others to live successfully with these apparent contradictions.
  8. Surprise your opponents by believing in them. There will always be people who disagree with your leadership style and what you do. Do not seek to silence, humiliate or vanquish them. Try to understand their point of view and deliberately work at identifying the positive elements there.
  9. Celebrate life. Activity and achievement of any kind are signs of life that affect life in turn. We work in order to enhance our life. We seek to excel for the same reason, not just to look good. In this spirit, we should celebrate not only individual performance and giftedness but life itself. You as a leader must participate in practices and ceremonies that honour the life of the people you are privileged to serve.
  10. Know when and how to make yourself replaceable. Great leaders know how to move themselves from centre stage. They know also when it is time to go. They prepare for it and make sure they have a successor who will build on what they have achieved. They enable other people to emerge as potential candidates. This is what sustains the leader’s legacy while guaranteeing a smooth transition.

As you can see, this is an incredible book and should be a part of every leader’s bookshelf. As Kalungu-Banda said, “Inspirational leadership makes all of us dig deep into the innermost parts of our being to find the very best that lies there and make it available to ourselves and others. This, in my view, is what great leadership is all about.” Are you practicing inspirational leadership at the highest level?

Applying A Little Heat

This morning, I walked to the barn to do the morning feeding and the thermometer 🌡 read 4 degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t mind the cold, but I always have to be cognizant that many things don’t work right, or at least need a little help to work right in this kind of weather. One of those things are frost free water hydrants.

For those who don’t know what that is, it is a water hydrant (pictured here) that is buried below the frost line and is designed so the on/off valve is at the bottom below the freezing point. Then when the water is turned off the water in the pipe drains down and out, and amazingly, no frozen water line. These are a great farm invention. They do, however, get a little moisture built up around the mechanism at the top for turning the water on and off.

Actually they are designed to withstand pulling the handle and turning them on, but I am always nervous in this kind of weather doing that. As we all know, things just have a way of going wrong in sub-freezing temperatures. Our way of mitigating this is to take a small hair dryer and running it for about 30-60 seconds on the valve. This small amount of heat makes it work perfectly – like it was 80 degrees out.

This morning, as I was doing this, I was reminded how a little heat being applied is good for all of us. I have always said that the best way to learn and grow is to be doing/trying something that causes a little fear. In fact I have blogged about it several times in: Leadership Lessons Of Mt. St. Helens, Telling Your Leadership Story, and Finding Your Leadership Voice just to mention a few.

As leaders we need to make sure we are enabling our team members to experience growth through real time projects and responsibilities that will, at times, cause a little “heat” and “pressure” to grow. The most effective leaders create unique experiences for themselves and others by taking calculated risks that put them and team members into situations that challenge their thinking, expand their perspective, make them feel vulnerable, and enable them to mature throughout the process.

Now, I am not saying throw yourself or your colleagues to the wolves. I am saying to act as the “hair dryer” I have used as the metaphor for this post and apply a little heat for growth to occur. This will allow us and those we serve to take key learnings from each of these experiences and apply them to similar circumstances we may be faced with. One of the ways I have learned to do this effectively is with task forces. Task forces gives teams of individuals a chance to form a community and create something for the organization.

The heat has been applied in my own personal life from being involved in turning schools around. Turnaround work can be one of the most thrilling and challenging adventures you can experience. Let me tell you, the “hair dryer” is pretty powerful and on high at all times. Turning around a struggling or failing situation teaches us to maximize the full potential of opportunities present in any situation and stretch the individual capabilities of ourself and other people.   We learn that there is always a way out and forward when there is an effective use of tools, resources, people, and money.

So, instead of letting a little heat, pressure, or fear intimidate us; let’s welcome and embrace it. Remember, sometimes a little heat from the “hair dryer” can be good for us all.

Leading From The Tractor Seat

I like to tweet out pictures from when I am sitting in my favorite chair – the tractor seat. As a leader I sit in a lot of seats, but I have to say, as the eternal farm kid, the tractor seat is my favorite. On this beautiful Christmas morning, I tweeting a sunrise picture from the tractor cab and some pictures spreading manure. Yep, even on Christmas morning there was work to be done and I loved every minute of it.

It got me to thinking about the leadership lessons available in a tractor cab. So, as a New Holland tractor guy I am going to use the New Holland cab for the metaphor. Here is what New Holland says about my tractor cab: “Ultimate comfort with the VisionViewTM cab designed around the operator’s needs” (from ). Think about that statement to start with. Aren’t we as leaders supposed to provide those we serve comfort and provide for their needs?

So, the description on the web went on to say the following (I am going to add in my leadership thoughts): The spacious VisionView cab provides outstanding all-round visibility, – as leaders we need to see everything from 30,000 foot, 10,000 foot and from the balcony – which has been further improved by the new single wiper blade with 200-degree movement – we need obstructions removed and those we lead to tell everything, whether good or bad – and extra wide-angle mirrors. – it is important to take a look at what has been done (lagging indicators) and know we are getting the job done right. While we should all leverage our strengths and seek out others whose strengths complement ours, we also need to practice new behaviors where we have identified blind spots. – For loader operation, a roof hatch can be specified to provide unrestricted view on the raised arms. – all leaders need not assume that position equals influence but instead to enter a meeting with a clean slate and make your observations from an unobstructed view. Remember that nearly every great leader was once a typical employee sitting in meetings with bosses and coworkers.

All the controls in the cab are ergonomically laid out, while many elements are adjustable to create a comfortable work station tailored to the operator. – Leaders who get to know their employees are better able to tailor recognition efforts and personalize the experience to the individual.Leaders who get to know their employees personally can tailor the ways for personal professional growth. The instrument cluster moves in conjunction with the fully tiltable steering column, ensuring a permanently unobstructed view. – in terms of vision, it’s being able to sense what’s going on in the world, see the unexploited opportunities and lurking dangers, and use that to figure out what to focus on and what not to focus on. – The IntelliViewTM IV touch screen monitor puts the operator in control of all the main parametres. I always say that the most important decision I make as a leader is “what to have my hands on” or “what to have my hands in.”

A choice of seats is available, offering varying degrees of comfort all the way up to the deluxe air-suspension version, as well as a full-sized instructor seat. it is great to have someone sitting alongside us learning. My son learned to bale hay, use the monitor, and wrap bales while sitting in the cab next to me. We must be shoulder to shoulder with those we lead. – The efficient air conditioning system can deal with the hottest conditions as well as the coldest days. – as leaders we must learn to adjust our lives to not only survive but be fruitful.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed a view through my cab window into why I love spending time in the tractor seat.

Learning To Appreciate All Who Contribute To The Success

“Quite often it takes more than just ourselves to achieve the success we claim to have made. Our success is a result of many people’s contributions: those of our parents and other family members, fellow workers, peers, teachers, and advisers.” ~ Martin Kalungu Banda

We’ve all seen it in a TV show. The character goes to her boss or parents with a bright idea, the idea is ridiculed, and then (sometimes in the same breath), the idea is repeated right back, word for word.  And, get this, it then becomes a great idea and he is glad he thought of it, too!

Unfortunately, these people do exist. In every company, in every organization, in every community, in every political party.  Some might not have as bad a case of it as others, but at some point, we will run into one of these people, or an entire organization of these vane people.

Furthermore, I have even experienced not being able to reach compromise or consensus because certain individuals ideas weren’t being used or he had not come up with the idea. This level of ego and vanity is amazing to me.

It Is Amazing What You Can Accomplish If You Do Not Care Who Gets the Credit.” ~ President Harry S. Truman

When faced with these type of situations I always remind myself and the group I am working with of the great thought of our 33rd President, Harry S. Truman, “It Is Amazing What You Can Accomplish If You Do Not Care Who Gets the Credit.” My choice has always been to favor the accomplishment of the idea, rather than worrying about getting credit for it. Really, very few accomplishments can be credited to any single person anyway.

This very topic was the subject of the chapter I was reading this morning in the awesome book I am currently reading, Leading Like Madiba: Leadership Lessons From Nelson Mandela by Martin Kalungu Banda. In this chapter, Kalungu Banda teaches us that sharing the credit is a mark of great leadership. An interview of Nelson Mandela is the subject here where he shows that success is often the result of concerted effort by many people. In the interview Mandela says, “…the reality of our struggle is that no individual among us can claim to have played a greater role than the rest.” To me, this says it all – it took (or will take) everyone, not just one!

“Being praised for what we have done is such a sweet feeling. Then we know that our efforts are being recognised and appreciated by others. We all need that kind of feedback from those around us. But I suspect we are sometimes too eager to receive praise for ourselves. Then we end up forgetting those we worked with to achieve the very things we are being praised for. Selfishly we make ourselves the centre of a reality that is much larger and greater than us alone. We exaggerate our contribution out of all proportion. Without meaning to, we start radiating negative energies that repel others from wanting to cooperate with us.” ~ Martin Kalungu Banda

We have all seen people who have become so caught up in what they think they have accomplished that they forget there are/were a lot of of others working on that same issue with them.

“The paradox is that the more we acknowledge and celebrate the capacities and contributions of those around us, the more we deepen the strength and prowess of our own character. We become poised to do greater things because others feel confident enough to win with us.” ~ Martin Kalungu Banda

The fact is, great leaders recognize and honor the contributions of others. In fact, the greatest of leaders deflect credit from themselves to others. We need to learn from Mandela and create the space for others to be acknowledged. Here are a couple of questions to consider:

  • Even if it is your idea, would you rather be right, or get the idea implemented?
  • How much do you value your vanity, your pride?

What Inspires You?

Yesterday I had a person ask me, “Byron, how do I deal with the person who does not want to learn or go through any professional growth experiences?” She went on to explain this was an experienced leader who believes she has seen it all. I explained that was a tough one. I have experienced these type of individuals. The type who say, “When you’ve been around as long as I have you’ve seen it all and know how to deal with…” Really, seen it all? I think not! Amazing!

In all honesty, I’m not sure there is a lot you can do with a person with that disposition. I say disposition because while I do believe leaders can be developed and don’t have to be born automatically a leader, I do believe that there are certain dispositions you must possess to be a great leader. One of those is a propensity to be a lifelong learner. I actually just blogged about lifelong learning this week in Lifelong Learning: The Farm Way.

So what was my advice? To have the tough conversation about the fact that all leaders need to continue to learn and find inspiration. I am a huge believer that those we serve as leaders need to see us learning and taking part in self development. Even better if they can experience this alongside us. If that doesn’t happen, I’m not sure how that person can be effective and I’m not sure how long they could continue in an organization that believes in growing its team members and being a learning organization.

During my own personal growth time this morning I had this thinking affirmed in the great book I am currently reading, Leading Like Madiba: Leadership Lessons From Nelson Mandela by Martin Kalungu Banda. I was inspired to study Nelson Mandela by Richard Branson. Madiba is one of Branson’s leadership heroes. Just as Richard Branson is one of mine. Talk about a guy (Branson) who continues to learn, grow, try new things, and start new thing. Pretty sure he has never said, “I’ve seen it all and know it all.”

In Kalungu Banda’s book he tells the story of Mandela going into the locker room before a soccer match and asking his favorite professional soccer player, Mark Fish, to switch jerseys with him. Mandela was wearing a jersey with Fish’s number on it. Fish agreed and Mandela went on to explain how much he was inspired by him and learned from him. Fish was very touched and inspired by this and said that any time he wore or even looked at the jersey he had gotten from Mandela it inspired him to get better. What the story about Mark Fish in this great book shows is that great leaders also need to be inspired. Mark might think that it was Mandela who inspired him and not the other way round, but it is clear from the story that Mandela had long been inspired by Fish.

Martin Kalungu Banda gives some great, what he calls in the book, Food For Thought on this story:

“We often do not imagine great leaders to be in the process of learning. Indeed, most leaders do not look as if they want to learn or have the time for it. They are either giving advice or opening a workshop for other people. We are surprised when we hear that a leader spent a day at a conference as a participant.”

As I said earlier, we need to be seen by those we serve, learning. Even better to be learning right next to them.

“Imagine what becomes of leaders who do not find anything to inspire them. My guess is that they soon dry up. They cease to inspire others because they have no replenishment themselves. We can only give what we have. So, to be leaders who inspire our organisations and communities, I am convinced we need clear sources of inspiration ourselves. Inspirational leaders continue to be moved by the surprises and wonders of life –people and nature, and the interaction between the two. Such leaders position themselves so that they continue to experience the awesome character of the world that surrounds them and the profundity of human life.”

What inspires you? You cannot inspire other people unless you get inspired and continue learning yourself.

“They [leaders] are always learning. Learning is about lending oneself, through practice, to the ‘how’ question: How can I hear other people better? How can I do this better? How can I understand this situation better? This style could explain why in spite of his age Madiba beams with the joy and vitality of a 21-year-old. It could be his ability to be inspired by other people. The readiness to be inspired by a footballer.”

When we feel so knowledgeable that all we want to do is impart what we know on others, it is a sign that we have stopped learning. There is no such thing as standing still in learning, however. You are either learning or you are regressing. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to regress!