Superhero Status

I’ll tell you my favorite thing about volunteering with young people: It enhances my superpowers. Inspiring children allows me to reach into the future and impact a generation I may never see born. That’s pretty dope.

Yesterday, I visited my old elementary school and spoke to a group of young brothers who are where I was 25 years ago. Talking to them about their aspirations reminded me of my own imagination at the time. I encouraged them to be there for one another because there are rooms in this world where, if we as black men don’t cheer for one another, no one will. I let them know we are one another’s tribe.

Find a way to inspire a kid between now and Monday morning. Even if it’s just a quick word of encouragement to the little girl sitting on the floor of Barnes & Noble reading. Let her know she matters. Or if it’s a little boy on the basketball court working on a certain move, let him know that, if he keeps practicing, he can perfect it. If it’s positive, encourage it and that positive mindset will spill over into other sections of their lives.

 

Make reaching into the future a priority.

Advertisements

Looking the Part

How do you prepare for big days?

I remember, as a boy, my dad taught me to take special care of my shoes. As a young man in the professional world, when I wore shoes to work every day, I polished them at least once a week. Now that I am able to wear sneakers and loafers on some days, I polish my hard bottoms less frequently but I still pay attention to their shine.

This post isn’t about shoes. It’s about being intentional in every aspect of your presentation. Press your shirts and trousers. Be able to select the appropriate socks. Have pen and paper that say, “I believe that what I am writing ought to be written with class.” Go into a meeting knowing you can not only meet with kings but also connect with them.

Life is too short not to be able to present yourself in a manner that commands respect. I’m not saying you always have to be in a full suit and tie but at least know how to do it and look comfortable and confident when you do.

 

Make looking the part a priority.

Every Level Isn’t For Everyone

“She has risen to the level of incompetence.” — Anon

I’m going to give you a tough pill to swallow: everyone isn’t meant to lead. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a calling/purpose and that doesn’t mean greatness doesn’t reside within you. But I do believe that everyone has a lane. That’s not saying everyone cannot lead someone else to greatness by way of mentoring. But everyone simply isn’t intended to take on the task of leading masses. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Shoot, as someone who often enters rooms and is asked to lead, I don’t always want the responsibility and am now at a stage in life where I will quite myself in certain settings in order to blend in (I learned the hard way not to stretch myself too thin and to helpfully say no instead of giving a harmful yes).

Know your strengths and pick a lane, ideally one that you can succeed in but one that will challenge you as you grow in it. And, if leading is something you want to do but something that doesn’t come naturally*, learn to do it.

 

Make knowing how you can best serve those around you a priority.

 

*I don’t believe in “natural” leaders. I believe some people may be more inclined to lead but everyone needs to learn to follow and everyone can improve on his/her leadership.

Options or Else

“Previous generations didn’t even know they wanted all these options. We’ve always known we have them.” — Deryle Daniels, Jr.

Newsflash: It’s not 1938 anymore. The generation that raised the generation who is managing/leading us taught our Baby Boomers  that the only option was to _____. Go ahead and fill in the blank. They were taught that there was an “only option,” which is no option at all and, if there was an option, it was a binary one: Do ____ or fail.”

Because of limited knowledge, opportunity, and vision (“Limited vision,” in this instance, is not a slight to them at all, just a reality. It’s very difficult for the mind to to envision that which it cannot even comprehend.), they didn’t know anything but what they knew. An imagination, at that time, was just that. Now, if I can imagine it, I’m sure I could see it happen over my life time. But I digress and am getting too philosophical. This post is about options.

For the past three decades (the entirety of my existence), there have been options. Abacus, calculator, pencil and paper, or mental math. Ross Perot, George H. Bush, or William J. Clinton. Video games, play outside, or read a book. Take this job, keep the one I have, or travel the world. HBCU, PWI, or community college. Electric toothbrush, manual tooth brush or… Actually, those are the only options unless you want a nickname like Yukmouth. As a leader of an organization, you have to recognize that people have options and you need to make them want to select yours. Why should they buy your product? Why should they work for your company? Why should they attend your educational institution? In 2018, a degree from UNCG can hold as much educational value as one from UNC and, if I play my cards right, can land me as good of a job.

In this day and age of information everywhere, it is a consumer’s market. You have to incentivize or you will lose customers, employees, and investors. Loyalty died when corporate America replaced the term “personnel” with “human resources” and when the bottom line began to grossly outweigh quality of product/service. Now that consumers know the power of their dollars, they will take those dollars to the lowest seller. Being aware of what they bring to the table, employees will take their talents to the highest bidder. Long lesson short, if you don’t show people that you value them enough to give them your all in hopes for the same from them, they will leave you.

I’m just trying to help you understand this before it’s too late. While most logical adults know nothing will ever be perfect, they also will hit a point where, if the bad outweighs the good, they’ll be headed out on the first thing smoking.

 

Make being the right option for your target market a priority.

Attention-Seekers, Please Read

“Don’t toot your own horn.” — Yuridiana Ortiz

I’m all for motivating yourself to yourself but be wary of speaking too highly of all that you’ve done in front of others. You know what you’ve accomplished. You know that it was good. Let that be enough. A hunger for attention is an unhealthy hunger, like a hunger for candy or ice cream. As a treat, it can be wonderful but too much can be sickening. The difference between attention and ice cream is that feeding too much ice cream to yourself makes you sick. Feeding too much attention to yourself makes those around you sick. They can no longer stomach you and, therefore, they avoid you.

When you’re truly doing well and are humble about it, the accolades and admiration will come. People will approach you and say “Great job.” But when you tell everyone else how much you’ve done before they do, you’ll feel underappreciated, which leads you to continue talking about how much you do, which leads you to feel more underappreciated. It’s a vicious cycle that only you can end by working hard and shutting up.

Humility is and always will be important. Don’t berate yourself but be cognizant of how you come across. You’ll never be seen as perfect but you can be less self-centered. I quickly joke with my close friends about how I’m the smartest guy in the crew but I will never walk into a room of associates and come across like that. It’s unbecoming, even if I know I am.

In this era of self-promotion, things get fuzzy because we must be able to draw a boundary between productive branding and problematic bragging. It took me a while to differentiate one from the other and, there are still times when I struggle with it, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re trying to separate the two. The wonderful thing is that every day is another opportunity to get better.

One more thing: The time to toot your horn (with some class, of course) is when you’re interviewing for a job and talking about your accomplishments or when you’re up for a raise/promotion. But, at that point, no one should be sick to the stomach if you’ve exhibited humility up to either of those points so, play that horn with confidence.

 

Make humility a priority.

Born or Bred?

I don’t know if there are or aren’t born leaders. But I do know there are people who aren’t born leaders and make themselves leaders as a result of hard work.

There are rooms I step into and I take command. There are other rooms I step into and choose to take a backseat. And, lastly, there are times when time overrides true leadership.

Whether you’re a “born leader” who wants to be better or a manager who needs to brush up on his leadership skills, you can do it. But you have to want better for your team, even more than for yourself. That is the true sign of a leader: selflessly putting the team first. And, guess what? When you do that and your team succeeds, you’re going to get the credit. Of course, you are to share it, but it’s yours as the leader. So, whether born or bred, choose to be better daily.

 

Make professional development a priority.

You Can’t Lead Everywhere

“Leadership is not about the next election, it’s about the next generation.” — Simon Sinek

Yesterday, I posted about getting better at saying “No.” Today, I’m going a bit deeper.

No one is meant to lead everywhere. For the longest time, I was a leader in every setting I stepped into. Classroom, field, court, board room, etc., I was voted to lead or be groomed to be the next leader. But now I don’t want that in every room and so I comfortably say “No, thank you.” Being a great leader (which I am working on now) is about selecting what you invest your time and energy in. That goes for everything from jobs to community service organizations to rec athletic teams.

I’m a solid leader. What I never asked myself is, “Do you want to lead?” Sometimes, the answer is yes. Other times, I’ve been guilted into it. But every project doesn’t deserve my guidance right now, just like they don’t all deserve yours. The world needs leaders but, in order to lead the world, you have to choose not to be mayor over the village.

 

Make professional development a priority.