Byron's Babbles

1973 – KISS Leadership

Gene Simmons of KISS

Gene Simmons of KISS during pregame of Super Bowl XXXIII

Yesterday I wrote Part I of a two part post entitled 1973 – Dolphin Leadership. Click here to read that post. Today, with only a few hours until Super Bowl 50, I continue to reflect on 1973 with Part II – 1973 – KISS Leadership. Leave it to me to be different. While everyone else is writing blog posts about the leadership of Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, I’m writing posts about the Miami Dolphins and KISS. Make no mistake, there is a KISS connection to past Super Bowls. The pregame show for Super Bowl XXXIII between the Denver Broncos (see the connection to Super Bowl 50?) and the Atlanta Falcons on January 31, 1999 at Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida included a indexperformance by KISS, along with their trademark elaborate make up, costumes, and theatrical pyrotechnics. By the way, Denver won that game.

Today’s post is about why I am so thankful that 1973 brought Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, and KISS into our stadiums, arenas, homes, and lives. KISS has sold over 100 million albums worldwide. I would argue, and trust me I have, KISS is one of, if not THE biggest, greatest, and most successful bands ever. Why else would the announcer say “You wanted the best, you got the best! The hottest band in the land… KISS!” This was audacious! This was one of the first lessons I learned from Gene, Paul, and KISS – lead with audacity, but back it up! Led by the marketing genius that is Gene Simmons, they continue to reach new audiences while engaging lifelong fans. Think about the lifelong fan piece – there are literally, thousands of people just like me who would defend KISS as the greatest rock and roll band ever. Gene Simmons may be best known as the fire-breathing, bass playing demon in one of the most influential rock bands in history, but he can also teach us a thing or two about leadership. If you have not followed the journey as closely as I have, I would recommend you reading, Me, Inc.: Build an Army of One, Unleash Your Inner Rock God, Win in Life and Business. We can also learn a great deal from what Paul Stanley has learned during his journey as well. I learned a great deal from reading his book, Face the Music: A Life Exposed. In fact, I am going to put these two books on my to read shelf to reread. There are many other books written by the members of KISS that I would recommend. I’ll let you Google and make those choices.

So, let’s discuss KISS Leadership:

  • Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley are truly “Rock Stars” and great examples of leaders. They are key members of my personal Mount Rushmore from the era of my youth, which also includes, Don Shula, Ronald Reagan, and Patrick Henry. To give an example of the KISS leadership example, I go back to an interview in April, 2014 during a great town hall interview on XM RADIO 39 HairNation following their induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where Gene said that he and Paul were always needing to try new “trepidatious” ways to perform! That’s what great leaders do! I promptly tweeted this (I’ve included an image of the tweet in this post). IMG_1844If you look up trepidatious you find the words: anxiety, anxious fear, and apprehension. So, that means they were being unorthodox, bold, and brave. Do you see the connection? Honestly, if you have not been to a KISS concert it will be hard for you to understand. Just suffice it to say, they are cutting edge. Heck, they redefine the edge…heck, there is no edge!
  • In my blog post Language Matters, I wrote, “I still remember being inspired by the battle cry that the greatest rock and roll band ever, in my opinion, KISS, uses: “You wanted the best, you got the best. KISS!” Think about that – I wanted to go to the greatest rock show, and I always got it. Language Matters! But then we also know, we must then Walk the Talk!” Gene Simmons has taught us that the words we choose really do matter. Leaders must make the investment in time and energy and pay the price for choosing the right words based on the context and stakeholders. When we, as leaders, make this investment, the payoff is of “rock star” proportions. Choosing the right words will help us set up everyone we lead for a level of effectiveness that will bolster a culture of excellence and steady it against the winds of change.
  • Gene Simmons teaches us that, “You have to understand that nothing appeals to everybody.” In other words you cannot be everything to everybody, but you must be the best you can be. Your content cannot be everything to everyone. KISS has always maintained a steady fan base by giving their fans what they wanted, and knew that they would never be able to please everyone. You are inevitably going to have critics; the important thing is to not let them derail your strategy. KISS has truly modeled for us how to be the greatest that you can be. There are none better at building a brand and trying bold and new ways to satisfy their customers.
  • Paul Stanley taught us in his earlier mentioned book, Face the Music: A Life Exposed that, “No victories are won by individuals. The key to success is always teamwork.” Stanley learned that people coping with success need to surround themselves with people who have their best interests at heart. “Anyone who is pursuing success knows how lonely it can be and that having a support team or people who are blazing the path with you is very reassuring and gives you a shoulder to cry on and a team to celebrate with…” Paul Stanley also warns us to also beware of our own ego – I believe hubris could also come into play here as well.
  • Gene Simmons taught us that we need to worry about imagery over content. In other words you don’t need to be the best or most qualified. Gene would tell us qualifications are highly overratedThere are thousands of people who had vision and leadership skills, who worked hard but didn’t have the exact skills to make their dreams reality. imagesThink about it, Steve Jobs wasn’t a developer or a programmer, but as a leader he knew how to articulate a vision clearly with imagery. Leaders adapt the content to the audience, emphasize the vision’s intrinsic value, select words and symbols that are uplifting, and use language that is inclusive. If a leader is able to do these things, he or she will increase the chances that the vision will be embraced and the goal achieved. The real test is then implementation. As Gene Simmons says in his aforementioned book, Me, Inc.: Build an Army of One, Unleash Your Inner Rock God, Win in Life and Business, “There are many really stupid ideas that wind up being brilliant, if you can implement them.” Gene has shown us how to articulate the vision and then implement. Thus why thousands of us still consider ourselves part of the KISS Army.
  • Continuing with the thought of implementation we must, as leaders, keep swinging the bat. We must not have a fear of failure, but a desire to try enough to fail and learn. In Me, Inc. Gene also teaches us, “Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from trying in the first place. Most baseball swings sound like this: ‘Swoosh.’ But, if you swing enough, you will hit some of the balls.” Enough said!Gandhi-Quotes
  • Edge starts with self. Finally, I am reminded of an interview that KISS had with Jay Leno. Leno asked Gene Simmons where KISS got their edge. Without hesitation, Gene answered, “Edge starts with self.” Wow, that was several years ago, but is a perfect anthem for how we as leaders need to be. Let’s say that again: “Edge starts with self!” That gives me goose bumps! We have to be the leader our organizations and teams need us to be. Ghandi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” I say, “We need to become the leaders we need in the world!” Wow, I kind of like that – sure hope 34787_447033466411_64075031411_5975115_6499440_nsomeone quotes me!
Yes I am a member of the KISS Army! I did not know it at the time growing up, but beginning in 1973 KISS was providing me with the greatest leadership lessons one could probably receive. My personal mission statement and battle cry of, “I deliver wowful educational leadership!” and anthem of being an, “Energetic change agent” have a little resemblance to “You wanted the best, you got the best!” don’t you think? I have never had the honor of meeting Gene Simmons or Paul Stanley in person, but it is certainly on my bucket list! Wouldn’t it be great if I could get them to spend a day with our Focused Leader Academy. Wow, what great discussions and learning would go on. What do you think Gene and Paul? Are you up for it? I would thank them for what they started in 1973 and the leadership lessons I have learned and continue to learn from them.






It’s Not All About You!

Posted in Coaching, Education, Leadership, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on July 4, 2012

Last Saturday, June 30, 2012, I had the distinct honor of addressing the graduates of the University of Phoenix with the keynote graduation address. It was such an honor to address the the 2,500 in attendance and I would like to share my speech with you here:

Members of the University of Phoenix Class of 2012:

This experience, as your keynote graduation speaker, very much like my career in education was not a goal that I set out to accomplish. Instead, because of the collaboration of many others, has been just like my career in education – an incredible journey that I will value forever – a journey that has led me in front of you today.

There was no epiphany when I said, “I am going to be a teacher!”

There was no pressure from home to be a third generation educator. There was no epiphany where I said, “I am going to be Indiana’s Teacher of the Year or Principal of Emmerich Manual High School, one of Indiana’s first turnaround academies.”

What I had were fans, a supportive front line, and a great coaching staff. Let me explain why I use the football analogy here. I had the opportunity a few years ago to meet and visit with Terry Bradshaw, the storied quarterback for the Pittsburg Steelers. He told me a story that has turned into one of the greatest educational and leadership lessons I know. Here’s what he said, “Byron, I was standing on the four yard line ready to score a touchdown in my fourth Super Bowl win, knowing this would be my last game before my retirement. I took a timeout and did not go to the sideline but spun around and looked at all of the fans, I looked over at our bench and coaches, and then I looked at my offensive line who had given me so much protection and opened up holes for so many huge plays to happen, and finally I looked over at my running backs and receivers who always made me look good.” Byron, he continued, “I realized right then and there that my amazing professional football career was not about me. It was about something much bigger – all those others that I just spun around and looked to.”

Today for you, just like Terry Bradshaw’s experience, is much bigger than just you. In fact as much as today is about celebrating your personal achievement of graduation – it’s not all about you. It’s about having a strong support network that I know supported you in this process. You know who that support network is – it is the faculty, friends, and family – make sure you thank them. In fact I would like for you to stand right now and join me in giving that support network a hand.

Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to understand what I have said and continue to say about my educational experience and career – It is much bigger than me. Hopefully my journey of ending up in front of you today can serve as a platform for others to follow.

Why is this bigger than me? Let me share with you my story of how I even ended up in education. I became a teacher because a professor at Purdue University cared, and pulled me into his office for a conversation one day that would change my life forever. Dr. Hobe Jones, my Purdue University Animal Science professor and counselor, said, “Byron, have you ever considered a career in teaching?” After giving what was probably a Hannah Montana type response of “You say what?” He knew I had not considered this as an option. After I promptly told him I had come to Purdue in Animal Science, and was going to graduate on time (keep in mind this was the spring semester of my sophomore year) he said, “Byron you are a great student and I will make sure you graduate on time.” Reluctantly, I agreed to graduate from Purdue with two B.S. Degrees. One which I never thought I would use – Agricultural Education and the other in Animal Science. It is interesting that with the focus now on content area mastery, I look back and really value my Animal Science Degree because it gave me the extra content area mastery to succeed during the teaching part of my career. It is Dr. Jones’ caring guidance that I tried to emulate every day as a teacher and now as a principal of an inner city school.

Can you imagine if I would have had to plan out my life’s journey in exact detail at the time Dr. Jones was recommending I become a teacher? Why, I would have had that all screwed up. It’s about BEING PREPARED FOR WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW YOU NEED TO BE PREPARED FOR. Let me say that one more time – It’s about BEING PREPARED FOR WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW YOU NEED TO BE PREPARED FOR.

You have made the first step in achieving this by graduating in your chosen field of study today. But make no mistake, your diploma is not an award, it is a ticket – a ticket to an incredible journey of giving back and continued learning! As the late John Wooden put so eloquently, “Its what you learn after you know it all that counts!”

Let’s break that giving back down by first looking at the University of Phoenix Mission and Purpose: University of Phoenix provides access to higher education opportunities that enable students to develop knowledge and skills necessary to achieve their professional goals, improve the productivity of their organizations and provide leadership and service to their communities. Notice it did not say that the University of Phoenix would award you a diploma, and you could then go have a party!

I’m not saying that is not allowed, but I am saying we need to take a look at how you now live out the mission and purpose by which the University of Phoenix facilitated your education.

Let’s break this down into three parts. #1. Access to higher education opportunities that enable students to develop knowledge and skills necessary to achieve their professional goals. As you graduate, University of Phoenix has done their job for the first part of the mission and purpose, but only to the extent of your professional goals today. Realistically, those may change, or even be changed for you tomorrow. Again, remember what I said earlier, YOU MUST BE PREPARED FOR WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW YOU NEED TO BE PREPARED FOR! The beauty of this is you have been empowered with the foundational knowledge to become or continue to be a lifelong learner. My challenge to you is to never be satisfied! Continue to take on educational challenges. We all need to be pushed.

Let me share one of my favorite parables. It is about the King who stood upon the banks of a mighty river with his daughter, the princess. His courageous warriors stood on the opposing bank.

The king knew that he would not live forever and so he wanted a prince who could lead his kingdom. He issued a decree: “I am looking for a brave warrior, a leader among men!” A roar rose over the raging rapids of the mighty crocodile-infested river. “I have a challenge!” Whoever shall swim across this river shall have all my riches and my daughter’s hand in marriage or anything else his heart desires.” The princess was a beautiful and brilliant young woman; the king possessed untold riches in gold and diamonds; but there was that river – that raging, crocodile-infested river…

The warriors looked at one another, exchanged wary glances, and suddenly – splash! A hole appeared in their ranks. They noticed one of their own, a young warrior, in the river, fighting desperately to make the crossing. As the crocs slithered into the water, headed toward the young man, a collective shout sounded over both banks: the young man swam! His arms pumped, his back flexed, his legs churned the water like propellers. The roar grew louder as the young man disappeared into the undertow and emerged again – pursued by the razor-toothed, prehistoric-looking reptiles. With one last burst he catapulted out of the river and onto the bank, grasping the hand of the king himself, who’d reached down to pull the young man out of the river.

The young warrior stood for just a moment until, overcome with emotion and fatigue, his hands dropped to his knees. The king at that moment raised the young man’s hand high into the air. In a booming voice, he announced, “Young man, you made it. You succeeded against all odds. You may have all my riches and my daughter’s hand in marriage.”

The young man looked at the king and the warriors back on the distant bank before speaking. “Your highness,” he said, “you are a wealthy and benevolent man” – his chest heaved as he paused to catch his breath – “and your daughter is beautiful, indeed…” He hunched over and, now facing the cheering warriors he had left on the far bank, shouted: “All I want is the fool that pushed me into the water!”

You’ve been pushed. Now swim like your life depends on it!

Now let’s look at mission and purpose #2. Improve the productivity of their organizations. I believe that one of the most important functions of any institution, no matter what level – k-16 and beyond, is to teach students to learn to learn. I know this is how University of Phoenix empowers their learners. No matter where your career is now or will take you, you must practice learning to learn and the sharing of that knowledge in the truest sense of a learning organization.

In his book, Power: Why Some People Have It – And Others Don’t Jeffrey Pfeffer calls it  “Feedforward,” which emphasizes what people need to do to get ready for the subsequent positions and career challenges they will confront…focusing on what you need to change to accomplish future personal goals can be much more uplifting than going back and reviewing past setbacks or considering areas of weakness.

Finally, #3. Provide leadership and service to their communities. This one is of the upmost importance. You all have an obligation to become agents of social change. In other words, set out to make a life – not just a living. When you make a living, you pay your bills. When you make a life, you pay your debt. We all have a debt to be an agent of social change.

Now I want to recap a couple of things. Don’t forget you must prepare for what you don’t know to be prepared for. Also you must learn to learn. And you must set out to make a life, not just a living. Make sure you are walking the talk and always remember you have the ability to at any time do what I call Byron’s three “R’s” of life: Retool, Reposition, and Re-Launch. By Retooling, Repositioning, and Re-launching, you become the lifelong learner that is always prepared for the next opportunity.

Why is this bigger than you and me? We must always remember that we are successful as leaders not due to solitary efforts, but due to organizational and collaborative success. I would like to close with a poem that I believe sums up everything I have been trying to say today:

Wreckers or Builders

I watched them tearing a building down,
A gang of men in a busy town.
With a ho-heave-ho and lusty yell,
They swung a beam and a sidewall fell.
I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled,
As the men you’d hire if you had to build?”
He gave me a laugh and said, “No indeed!
Just common labor is all I need.
I can easily wreck in a day or two
What builders have taken a year to do.”
And I tho’t to myself as I went my way,
Which of these two roles have I tried to play?
Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by the rule and square?
Am I shaping my deeds by a well-made plan,
Patiently doing the best I can?
Or am I a wrecker who walks the town,
Content with the labor of tearing down?

Thank you for allowing me to have this BIGGER THAN ME experience and be part of your graduation!