Byron's Babbles

Serendipity Mattered

This week while continuing to read Great Society: A New History by one of my favorite authors, Amity Shlaes, I found the shortest sentence in the book: “Serendipity mattered” (p. 188). Serendipity has always been an intriguing word to me that I have had trouble understanding because I here it being used in different ways. But when used in the context of Shlaes book, in a two word sentence it made perfect sense. The sentence “Serendipity mattered” really drove home the point she was trying to make and really made the lightbulbs come on for me.

In other words, there needs to be serendipity for innovation to occur. So what is serendipity? As I said earlier, I have trouble understanding it fully, but I know that when conditions are right for it, great things happen. Serendipity is said to happen by simple chance. An opportunity that comes about by a chance occurrence. Therefore, we must create the opportunities for these occurrences. This was the point that Shlaes was making in the book. The Fairchild Semiconductor company realized they needed innovation. They also realized that looseness of hierarchy drove innovation. Thus, “Serendipity mattered.” It is also why we need to beware of the current tides toward any of the Great Society’s socialistic tendencies. This will stifle the serendipity that is so needed.

I touched on serendipity in my blog post Alternative Truths back in 2017, but only to say that we need to be intentional to create space for serendipity to occur. Therefore, I needed to study a little more. Research led me to find that our use of the word serendipity comes from The Three Princes of Serendip. The musician and poet, Amir Khusrau wrote this Persian tale in 1302. The tale is about King Jafer and his three sons. He wants them to have the best education in the kingdom. The King believed that great book learning needed to be combined with a real world context. Wow, I preach that all the time! In fact, I wrote a book, The Hand In The Back Of The Room, about it!

Anyway, the king gave each of the boys a horse and told them to go discover. The boys relished and took advantage of this experience. They learned from being on a journey of taking in real world experiences. Then in 1754, Horace Walpole coined the word serendipity in a letter. He described serendipity, by referring to the tale of the three princes, as making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of. He was excited about this word because there was no word to describe the discovery of something you are not looking for. It was really accidental sagacity.

Then comes the question, how do we create space for serendipity to happen. It probably won’t work to get everyone a horse, but I’m certainly up for it. Think about all the great inventions and innovations that have happened by accident. We need to remember in all this that creation precedes innovation. We need to provide ourselves and others varied routines and time for serendipitous moments to occur. It is why the story of the king sending the princes on a horseback adventure is so important. They’re heads were clear and they were just observing. Think about it; it’s why just taking a walk to clear your brain can bring creative thoughts and solutions. I do this a lot when facilitating teacher leader gatherings. I will tell them to split into groups and take a walk and discuss… They always come back refreshed and with great thoughts and ideas.

Leaders, including political leaders, need to recognize the important role serendipity plays in creativity, innovation, and even relationship building. Interestingly, in my research I found having lunch together as a strategy for encouraging serendipity. I blogged about having lunch together in Let’s Have Lunch Together, but not from the angle of serendipity.

We need to start looking for more serendipity to happen and create space for it. We might not be looking for something specific, but we need to be tuned into a channel of infinite possibilities. Think about it; this blog post was inspired by a two word sentence. It must have been serendipity!

Seeing What Others Don’t See

Posted in core values, Courage, Democracy, Freedom, George Washington, Global Leadership, Leadership, Visionary, Visionary Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 22, 2020

The best leaders see things that other leaders don’t see. At least I believe this to be true about the leaders I most respect. Recently, I heard it said of George Washington that he was an idealist and saw things as they should be. If we think of idealists as seeing the full potential in others and organizations, I certainly agree. Idealists are visionaries. Think about it, Washington’s vision for our country was visionary because there was not any other country out there to copy off off.

The part that really impresses me about Washington, however, is that he was also a pragmatic leader. He was a practical thinker. When he took over the Virginia Regiment and then the Militia he had to focus on the processes necessary to achieve the vision. Both times he was given groups of undisciplined/unruly men that he had to create the processes of rule, order, and training.

While Washington was that rare leader that possessed idealism and pragmatism, I believe it was his ability to truly inspire and mobilize people that separated him from others. Also, he was able to keep his ambitions in check – most let ambitions for power, position, money, or status wins out over purpose and core values. Washington might be our true shining star role model for this.

As I was studying for this post, I came across a quote credited to French novelist, Marcel Proust: “The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.” This quote could certainly apply to great visionary leaders and Washington. In doing more research, however, I found this was a paraphrase and not what was actually written in Proust’s novel.

The quote is paraphrased out of Proust’s seven volume novel, Remembrance Of Things Past (1923). The actual phrase is in Chapter 2 of Volume 5, The Prisoner, and is actually referring to art instead of travel. You might disagree, but I believe the actual passage to be more meaningful than the paraphrased version. Here is the actual transcript:

“The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is.”

Proust was an incredibly talented and artful writer. His writing in this novel gives us another way to think about the leadership of Washington. He was seeing our country through another set of eyes - not just using the same paradigms that were known by all at the time. As an artful leader, Washington was able to envision what great things our new universe, a democracy, would behold for each of us.

Today, if we truly want to embrace one-of-a-kind ideas in a world of copycat thinking, we need to see the things that others don’t see.

Contrarian Thinker

One day, this past week, I was introduced to a group I was speaking to as a “Contrarian Thinker.” Honestly, I wasn’t exactly sure what that was. After doing a little research, however, I found that this was probably a pretty accurate description. Contrarian thinkers are trailblazers. ✔️Check. They are polarizing visionaries who are just as likely to be called crazy before brilliant. ✔️Check. Contrarian thinkers have the foresight to see hidden opportunities and seize them when the right moment presents itself. I would like to think I do this, but I’m not so arrogant to say check on this one.

Never forget, the risks of going against the crowd are greater, but so are the rewards. The rewards of innovating, curiosity, and an imagination gone wild are always worth the effort. An important fact for a contrarian thinker to remember is that no one will be expecting you or your ideas to succeed, which is one of the reasons you will.

Then, last night as I was flipping through the channels (are they still called channels on the tv?) I stopped on Shark Tank long enough to hear Mark Cuban described by one of the other Sharks as a contrarian thinker. So, off I went to learn more about his storied history.

While reading 9 Critical Turning Points That Shaped Mark Cuban’s Extraordinary Career by Drake Baer, I found that Mark Cuban is a contrarian thinker. One of my favorite quotes from Mark Cuban in the article is, “The ‘sprint’ doesn’t have a finish line. There’s never a point where you can say, ‘We’ve made it.'”

The more I studied this topic, however, I really found that many contrarian thinkers always find an opposing view. I don’t think that is me at all. Nor do I believe that would be very productive. A more productive view would be one of “independent thinker.” My takeaway to share with you is that rather than always being swayed by consensus view, or consistently being a contrarian, we should strive to be independent thinkers. I always strive, and would encourage you to as well, look at different perspectives, and sometimes find a unique angle.

Remember, if you think the same way as everyone else, it is very difficult to outperform them.

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.

Manufactured Culture

Tonight in our Central Florida gathering of 3D Leadership in Orlando, Florida we got into a discussion about “manufactured cultures” vs. “organic cultures”. Clearly, just like with food, organic wins out as best. We always talk about how great it is for things to happen organically, but I had really never thought a lot about how detrimental it was for leadership to try and manufacture culture.

Most team members truly try to be honest and try to make the environment a better place. Leadership, conversely, that is inexperienced or questionable results in bad decisions. These leaders then try to manufacture a culture that is contrary to that of the larger organizational community. This leadership lacks tactical and long term strategic vision. Ultimately, this results in a disconnect of culture/morale. Check out this list of top five good leader traits that would lead to an organic culture and top five bad leader traits developed by the participants tonight that would contribute to a manufactured culture:

In order to develop a community with an organic culture, leaders need to understand their own limitations and areas for growth and fix them. Additionally, great organizational communities identify the difference between finger pointing and leading. We must also listen to our long term team members, whose insight has been proven over and over.

Great organizational communities with organic cultures listen to their teams and fix issues right away. There is also always honesty about what is going on in the organization. Additionally, organizations sometimes become very cult like which results in a manufactured culture.

How about you? Are you leading in a way that lets your organizational culture develop organically, or are you manufacturing it?

Soaring Like A Malcontent Eagle

This past Saturday night I got caught up watching the documentary “The History Of The Eagles” on CNN. As a student of rock and roll bands and artists I became engrossed. Particularly when you think about all the artists that were members of the Eagles, like Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and Joe Walsh; or those who influenced and mentored the band, like Bob Seger, Jackson Browne, and Linda Ronstadt. There were so many things that I could blog about after watching this. I took a couple of pages of notes.

One of the things that caught my attention was when the Eagles manager said that Don Henley was a “malcontent.” Henley, however, just wanted the band to keep getting better. A malcontent is someone who is dissatisfied and rebellious. I believe many tines those of us who have a very defined purpose and are very passionate are viewed as, and rightly so, rebellious. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing.

Isn’t a malcontent really someone who is not satisfied with the status quo? Couldn’t a malcontent be that person who sees a need and opportunity for change? Finally, couldn’t a malcontent be a catalyst for change? When all three of these questions get answered with “yes,” that constitutes a person being a productive malcontent.

This is the person who challenges what is being done, but always has an alternative to offer. This is healthy. It’s the person who just complains and fights change with no alternatives that is toxic to the organization or community. So let’s embrace the productive malcontent and be vulnerable to positive/constructive criticism/change for the betterment of our organizations, schools, businesses, communities, or even rock bands.

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.

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?

 

 

If You Cannot Lose, You Cannot Win

IMG_5157I always have a long list of topics that I want to blog about. With this post I get to one that hit the list on Christmas Day, 2018. My father-in-law had a page of quotes from a magazine and he did a little devotional reading before we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus (a family tradition on my wife’s side). He handed me the copy when he was done and I got to reading the other quotes. One quote really jumped out at me. Better yet, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It is one of those that I needed to read two or three times to really comprehend what it was saying. Here it is:

“If you want to do something where we can’t lose, then we must accept the proposition that we cannot win.” ~ Gene Hill, A Hunter’s Fireside Book, 1972

Read it one more time. This quote really caused me to take pause. It is very true. I we want to do things that we cannot lose at, then we have to accept that we will never win. At the time I was reading this I was really thinking about lots of things in a winning and losing context. Whether it be in the public policy arena, football bowl games, or many other things. It is very frustrating to me that many times people do not want to get behind, support, or associate themselves with new and innovative things until they know they are going to be successful (a win). That to me is playing not to lose, not playing to win. In athletics, one of the worst things you can do is play not to lose. Very rarely will that strategy get the person or team the win. I believe this is true in all other areas as well.

Not being able to take a loss or having fear of losing will keep us from ever making progress. Trying not to lose is not the same thing as trying to win. Trying not to lose is reactionary. It’s prevention. Most of the time it prevents us from winning. Worst of all, it starts with the belief that we should focus on “not losing,” which gives the idea of losing too much power. “Playing to win” begins with the belief that we can and will win. It’s empowering. The belief that we can win and the desire to do so allows us to take initiative, be creative and innovative, to be resourceful, and to take the necessary actions that will better the chances of winning—even if taking those actions comes with a particular risk. We cannot live risk free and have guarantees that everything we do will be a winner.

We’ve all seen athletes, athletic teams, businesses, and political leaders try to play it safe and approach games, life, and administrations from a safe and play not to lose vantage point. What usually happens? At best, nothing! At worst, the loss. If you’re like me you have probably been in the situation where you were really working hard for a win with very little support of others who were afraid you might lose. Then all of the sudden when the win came, lo and behold, everyone was there to take credit. Amazing!

When we are playing not to lose our focus is not on what we could gain, but on protecting what we already have. When playing not to lose energies are channeled into shoring up the status quo, and guarding against what we do not want to happen. So play to win, not to not lose. In the larger game of leadership, playing it safe is the most dangerous game plan of all. Playing to win might just be the greatest of all leadership traits. It requires putting what you already have at risk for the sake of something bigger, something better. Additionally, it requires throwing caution to the wind and having the courage to creative something new and be innovative. This takes a great deal of courage and a trait that I am so glad I have been blessed with: “being comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

So, lets get out there and play to win. Remember, without failure there can be no real progress. I leave you with the great wisdom of Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

 

 

As Leaders, We Create The Weather

How do you show up? Think about this: do you show up sunny and bright or stormy and cloudy? Bottom line: if you show up as sunshine it will be a shiny happy day for the team. If you show up as a thunderstorm, however, it will be a rough ride. Either way, unlike the weather outside, you have the ability to influence the weather of your organization.

If you don’t believe this think about if you have ever worked with someone who you need to ask others what kind of mood he or she is in before talking to him or her. If you’ve experienced this then you have experienced leaders controlling the weather.

Therefore, we need to be intentional about the weather systems we create. Think about about the extremes: blizzards, hurricanes, extreme heat, or tornadoes. Then think about that sunny day with a calm breeze and moderate temperatures. Which of these weather patterns would you want to be creating?

Your teams and organizations will take their cues from you and whatever weather pattern you are projecting. If your outlook is sunny and bright, the organization is sunny and bright. If your outlook is full of storm clouds, the weather in the organization will be pretty much the same.

Next time you are with your team or people, imagine you are the weather map behind the meteorologist on television and she is about to give the weather report. If you take this moment of being mindful, it will help you to calm any storm fronts and bring sunshine and calm breezes to your organization.

Don’t forget, you are your organization’s meteorologist. As leaders, we create the weather. What kind of impacts do your weather systems have on your organization?