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The Power to Choose

I just hung up the phone after a conversation with a “loved one”. A loved one who has seemed to struggle with life for as long as I can remember. I’d like to say that my attempts to encourage & equip him resulted in some eye-opening epiphany for him, but they didn’t.

I ended the conversation reminding him that of all that’s happened, of all that’s been lost, of all that’s changed; the one thing he still has is the power to choose. It was a great reminder to myself and I’d like to share this reminder with you.

When given the choice, choose joy over anger.

When given the choice, choose love over hate.

When given the choice, choose hope over despair.

When given the choice, choose peace over turmoil.

When given the choice,  choose healing over hurting.

When given the choice, choose relationships over stuff.

And by the way, we’re always given the choice.

Choose well my friends, choose well.

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Can People Change?

This post is dedicated to the leaders, managers, parents, significant others & anyone else who spends time looking at someone in your circle of influence pondering the question, “Why won’t they change?”

We all have an area of our life that could use a little adjustment, modification, or improvement.  We’re also surrounded by others who could use a little adjustment, modification, or improvement – A Change!!!

Many of us spend an inordinate amount of time, energy, and resources focusing on the change that someone else needs to make.  A change, I might add, that the other person frequently denies the need for or doesn’t value.

I am proponent of change.  I believe in change.  Change is possible.

But there are two facts about change I’ve learned:

1. People can change.

2. You can’t change them.

For what it’s worth, I suggest we spend time addressing and navigating the areas of our own lives that need change and let others be responsible for addressing and navigating their own change.

Remember, people can change, but you can’t change them.


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The Courage to Encourage

We all need encouragement, a little push, or a little reminder that we can do it (See Watty Piper’s “The Little Engine That Could”). Knowing that someone believes in us enough to encourage us can be the motivating factor that keeps us going when we feel like quitting. I salute all the encouragers in the world, the people that cheer for others, the people that are fans of the underdog, the people that don’t give up on others because they can still see greatness in them.

I do however have a word of caution for the encouragers – be aware of the line between encouraging someone & enabling* them. It can be a fine line, a subtle line, and most importantly, it can be a moving line.

Here are some differences between encouraging & enabling:

Encouraging = Interdependent.
Enabling = Co-dependent.

Encouragement = You have to want it for yourself more than I do.
Enabling = I want it for you more than you want it for yourself.

Encouragement = I advise, but you decide (you own the decision).
Enabling = I advise AND I decide (I own the decision).

Encouragement = You face the consequences of your decisions.
Enabling = I protect you from the consequences of your decision.

As leaders of families, organizations & communities we must have the courage to cultivate a culture of encouragement. A culture of enabling will always destroy families, organizations, & communities.

*Enabling in this context refers to the process by which we contribute to the negative behaviors of others by failing to recognize a problem, set appropriate boundaries, establish expectations & enforce consequences.

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Is This Really a Need??

Today I took Devin and Darius school shopping.  You know the routine; pencils, colored-markers, highlighters, compasses, usb drives (I don’t remember this one on my school list), composition books (classic), and of course the transporter of all these supplies – the book bag.   We got everything on the list, we got everything we needed, or so we thought.

It was a pretty uneventful trip, until we unpacked at home.

I’m in the kitchen preparing dinner and they’re both  showing Dexter their supplies when this exchange takes place:

Darius – “Dex, you like my book bag?”

Dex  – “Yeah.”

Dex – “Darius, what’s that other bag?”

Darius – “My book bag from last year.”

Dex – “That looks brand new.”

Me – “Huh, what?? Bring me that bag.  Darius this book bag from last year is just fine.  Why did we buy another book bag?”

Darius – “I don’t know.”

Dex – “When am I going school shopping?
Me – “Now’s not the time..”

Dex – “Ok, and by the way, I don’t need a book bag.  The one I have from last year is just fine.”

Me – “Great, that saves me some money.”


Now back to Darius.  As you can see, I spent $30 on a book bag.  $30 that I didn’t have to, but I did.  Why because I failed to conduct a proper assessment of our needs and resources before I allocated my money.


What another wonderful lesson for leaders that my children have been so gracious to teach me:


Before you expend resources, make sure you assess not only your needs & wants, but your assets.  Sometimes you already have what you need. 

Next time you write a grant, apply for a government contract, conduct a needs/resource assessment remember this lesson.

We can become so preoccupied and focused on what we want and what we “think” we need that we don’t spend ample time assessing what we have and how to leverage what we have to get more.


By the way, Dexter leveraged the fact that he already had a book bag to get extra money for clothes.  Darius is learning the value of philanthropy and donating a book bag to a church’s back-to-school drive.   Oh yeah, and in the future, we will assess what we have before we go shopping.

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City Year Columbia – Young People Making a Difference

Today I had the honor and privilege to facilitate a session on Leadership and Inclusion with City Year Columbia 2013-2014 Corps Members.  Spending time with this diverse, inclusive, and engaging group of young people was awesome, simply awesome.  I hear many people talk about Generation Y and the Millennials, and unfortunately most of the comments are negative or pessimistic.  We hear about them being selfish, lazy, self-centered, impatient, and even spoiled.  Well, I can’t speak about everyone in a particular age group or generation, but I can tell you something about the City Year Columbia 2013-2014 Corps members – you can call them a lot of things, but you can’t call them selfish, lazy, self-centered, impatient or spoiled.

Here’s my strongest piece of evidence.  We asked each Corps Member the following question – What is your greatest hope regarding working with students this upcoming City Year?  Here are their answers:

  1. Give them (students) insight
  2. Having an impact on the students while having then progress.
  3. My greatest hope is that the students remember that no matter what circumstance they ever face, that they can always rise and push on.
  4. That I will be able to make the difference that I have heard other corps members say they have made.
  5. To make a difference in the life of at least one student
  6. Building strong relationships.
  7. Everyone will graduate
  8. I hope that I can see the difference I make in at least one student.
  9. To have an impact on students’ lives and push them towards graduation
  10. Inspiring students to believe in themselves and to take personal responsibility for their academic success and furthermore their lives. I hope to inspire students to understand that anything is possible if they believe they work hard towards their goals.
  11. That I build healthy and lasting relationships with them.
  12. To make a difference in my students lives
  13. My greatest hope regarding working with students during my time at City Year is that I can positively affect a student in the way my past teachers have affected me. I just want to let my students know that I am going to be consistent and there for them to talk to about academics and life.
  14. Seeing a positive change being made.
  15. I hope that I will be able to inspire students to take pride in their education and give them the tools they need to excel.
  16. My greatest hope will be that I make a positive impact on these children lives and help to strive towards decreasing the dropout rate across the world.
  17. I hope that the students I work with really take away something great from the time that we spend together.
  18. Making a difference in their lives
  19. I hope to leave a long lasting impression on at least one student
  20. That they will teach me and transform me and that I will also be able to impact their lives.
  21. That I establish positive and life-changing relationships.
  22. That I will touch one of the kids in the way that some of my teachers did for me. A lasting impression can help in decision making years down the line.
  23. To get students to believe in themselves
  24. To make a positive impact

Wow!!!! Every time I read their responses I smile.  There’s nothing selfish, self-centered, or lazy about these answers.  As a matter of fact, their answers aren’t about them, their answers are about the students they’re committed to serve.  These Corps Members recognize a fundamental principle to effective, ABLE Leadership – “It’s Not About Me”.  As I said earlier, this is awesome.  They’re here to serve a greater common good, a purpose that’s larger than their ego, a cause that’s bigger than their issues, a vision that they all believe in.

So the next time you look at “young people” and think all hope is gone and everyone is caught up in “self”, stop for a moment and think about 24 young people – 24 young people who are committed to make a difference, who strive for excellence, who are stepping outside of their comfort zone, who believe in the greater good, who are demonstrating real leadership, who call themselves City Year Columbia.  Great job.  Proud of all of you.  Be the best leader you’re ABLE to be.

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Undermining The Chair’s Authority

Attention Board Chairs, want to undermine and subvert your own power and authority? Just do these things:

1. Do your best to convince your board to postpone and avoid every decision that comes their way. Who needs to make a decision anyway, it’s not like we’re “in business”.

2. Have meetings before the meeting with certain board members to “pit” them against each other. This will ensure there’s a healthy level of transparency & trust.

3. When Board members aren’t fulfilling their roles, responsibilities, and expectations, have the CEO contact them and “get them in line”.  Why should you take the time to reach out to the Board members??  It’s not like you should be keeping your finger on their pulse.

4. When Board members quit or resign forbid remaining board members from having any contact with the exiles. And definitely resist the temptation to conduct some type of exit interview – you don’t want to take the chance of gathering some useful information.

5. Remind your CEO that she works for you, not the entire board.

6. Never, ever, under any circumstances, should you have any contact with your CEO outside of the normal Board meeting. There’s enough time 5 minutes before the meeting to get you caught up on any relevant issues.

7. Allow your CEO to develop the agenda for the meeting absent your input, afterall; it’s the CEO’s meeting anyway, isn’t it?

8. Refuse to listen to anyone that knows better.

9. When board members  are uncertain or concerned, reinforce their uncertainty by agreeing with their fears and reminding them that it’s always been this way and will always be this way.

10. Always speak in the past tense, focus on yesterday and talk about the good ol’ days.  We’ll always have time to talk about tomorrow, but yesterday is gone forever, let’s do our best to keep it alive.

OK, seriously, my legal counsel is about to make me delete all of this If I don’t offer some type of disclaimer.

I’m joking and being sarcastic – this is not real advice – please don’t do these things.

So why did I take this sarcastic approach?? Because, unfortunately, people still do these things after being told not to do them.  So this is my attempt at reverse psychology?  Seriously, don’t make these mistakes.

Be the best Board Chair your ABLE to be.


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A Change is Gonna Come

Change is:







Call change what you like but there’s one thing we all must agree with – funders of all types pour money into communities everyday seeking change in some form or another as the return on their investment (ROI).  Some organizations and communities are successful at implementing, managing and navigating change; while others struggle with the mere thought of change.  I started wondering what’s the difference between those that successfully implemented and sustained long-term, positive, effective, healthy changes in our communities and those that didn’t.

Based upon my observations and conversations with leaders in the Social Sector, I’ve discovered 4 keys to successful change efforts, the keys that separate the “change agents” from others:

Purpose:  You’d think this is a no-brainer, but it’s not.  Simple question, why??  Why are we doing this?  To what end? What’s the core purpose of this initiative, effort, or project?  I’ve seen instances where the sole purpose was to “spend money we had to spend”.  Guess what?? There was no long-term, positive, effective, healthy change.  Why?  Purpose drives passion and provides direction.  If we’re just trying to clean the books before the end of the fiscal year, all we’ll change is the balance sheet.  Clearly defining the purpose gives everyone involved a framework for their engagement.  We know why we’re here.  We know the end we’re striving for.  We are able to see beyond the tasks at hand to the vision at the end.

Patient Persistence:  Successful change agents recognize that “it didn’t get this way overnight and we’re not going to change it overnight.”  This has been a huge issue with government and foundation funding.  We expect to break generational and cyclical patterns of poverty and despair in one grant cycle – Not going to happen.  I applaud those foundations, government agencies and other entities that recognize the strategic advantage of committing to longer-term funding.  Some of the proverbial “needles” we want to move are going to take a while to move. We shouldn’t hastily select “symptomatic” indicators that can move the needle easily, but don’t change reality.

Participation:  We’re not going to make a difference in anyone’s life or any community without the active, up-front participation of all stakeholders.  I’ve seen far too many “needed” programs and projects fail because the “smart people” making the decision, knew what the community or target audience needed and decided to deliver it without their buy-in. We’re not there to work “for” “to” or “at” anyone, we’re there to work “with” and “through”.   This notion that we’re going to ride into a community on a white horse in our shining armor and save people from themselves is played-out.  By the way, participation is more than inviting people to an event announcing what’s already been decided upon.

Pain: As necessary as change may be, for a target audience or community, we must acknowledge that any time we disrupt the status quo it results in discomfort for somebody.  The process of change can create conflict and resistance.  Think about it, when faced with pain most of us want to “pull up”, “pull back” or “pull out” (think about working out at the gym for the first time.) The first step to handling this is to be up-front with all stakeholders – talk about the process and challenges.  This applies to all stakeholders, including service providers.  For instance, collaborating can be a painful process – it’s different, it can become uncomfortable and disruptive.  Talking about this “pain” will help everyone manage the pain when it inevitably arises.

This is not an exhaustive list, it’s just 4 simple ideas that I believe can positively change the “culture of change” in our organizations and communities. 


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“Those People”

Here we go again.  Another person says something they shouldn’t have said about one of “Those People” and apologized for it.  Welcome to the party Philadephia Eagles Wide Receiver Riley Cooper.

As I’ve listened and watched everyone from radio commentators, to television personalities, to “gym rats” at the Y discuss how appalled and disgusted they are, I just smile.  Their comments include:

It’s 2013, how can someone say that?

I can’t believe people can be so ignorant.

I would never do that.

When will this end??

Again, after these and similar comments all I can do is smile.  Why am I smiling? Because sometimes I think it’s pretty entertaining to watch people lie to themselves.   Now putting entertainment aside, I’m tired.  I’m tired of all the empty, re-hashed, lack of outcome-driven talking.   I’m tired of us fooling ourselves and fooling each other.  Why do we do this?

Because we’ve been taught & told since childhood “not to talk about” certain things – So we’ve become adults that don’t know how to talk about them.

So here’s the conversation starter.  I’m going to say what no one in the national media has said, to my recollection.  I’m about to say what most of us already know and believe, but we dare not say.  I’m going to say something that can spark a conversation that has the power to change the landscape of race relations, and any other relation that involves “differences” in people.  Ready for what I’m about to say.  Here it is – three points.




Being prejudiced isn’t the real problem.  The problem is how we manage our prejudices when they begin to rise up and come out.  If we’re honest we see some of “those people” and thoughts come out of nowhere, we don’t want to think them, but they come out.  And then when we reach the point that we stop thinking it, as soon as one of  “those people” pisses us off it comes back.  Why does it come back, because it never left.  And oh by the way, it may never leave.

But when our culture can mature and we all put on our Big Boy and Big Girl pants we can engage in some #CourageousConversations with all of those people in the room together.  We may just learn from each other.  We may learn how to manage our prejudices.  We may gain some knowledge and awareness that will dispute and dispel our prejudices.  We may just learn how to control our prejudice.

It’s interesting when we conduct our “Those People Exercise”© in seminars people always say, “I was taught not to say that.”  Very rarely, if ever, will someone say, “I was taught not to think it.”

So Riley Cooper was probably taught not to say it (in public), but he probably wasn’t taught not to think it and therefore he surely wasn’t able to know how to manage it when it started to rise up in him.

What about you? Are you able to manage your prejudices?  How are you able to deal with those horrible things that you thought you cleansed from your spirit when they attempt to rise up during the most inconvenient times?


**Those People Exercise© is a unique experience where a safe space is create for participants to open up and share everything they’ve ever heard, been taught, saw, or thought about different groups/populations.




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Things Don’t Just Happen

One of the greatest challenges of parenthood is teaching your children self-responsibility as it pertains to the relationship between what they do and what they get. Children have a canny ability to “not know” how things happened, especially if the result is undesirable. All of my children have demonstrated this ability at one time or another.

There was the time Douglas “lost” his brothers USC sweatshirt. Even though he borrowed it without asking his brother and loaned it to a friend (w/o his brothers permission) and then forgot go back to the friend to get it. He didn’t know how it happened – I do.

Things don’t just happen.

There was the time Dex went to a church conference in California. I couldn’t afford the full expense of the trip, but Dex ended up in California anyway. How??? He called family & friends and asked for their support – they believed in him & his enthusiasm and they supported him. Some people said they didn’t know how it happened – I do.

Things don’t just happen.

The Leadership Lesson my children taught me was:

Every effect is preceded by a cause.
Every consequence is preceded by a choice.
Every result is preceded by an action.
Every output is preceded by an input.


We have the power to make things happen, whether we know how they happen or not.

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Why Am I on this Board?

I’ve heard this question more than once during my career. It’s the equivelant of waking up next to your spouse and asking, “Why did we get married?” Needless to say, not the morning greeting any of us want.

Well to prevent you from waking up during a Board meeting in the future and asking, “Why am I on this Board?”, we’ve discovered 4 simple questions to ask before you commit to the Board.

1. Why do you want me? Your seeking their motivation for seeking you. Discover your unique quality or characteristic that attracted them to you in the first place.
2. What role do you want me to play? This is similar to a position on the football field – the quarterback and wide receiver are on the same team, but they have two very distinct roles. Confusion is reduced when you know what role you’re playing before the game starts. For our purposes today, we’re going to say all board members assume the role of governing and within the role of governing there are some common positions, including Chair, Treasurer, and Secretary (NOTE: All Board members assume a governing role, but ALL Board members are not fit to be the Chair, Treasurer, or Secretary – guess I’ll write about that one another time.) Now back to the business at hand, some other roles we’ve seen board members asked to play include:


Governance Expert


Image/Face of the Board

Special Liaison

Community Connector

Critical Thinker/Questioner
3. What are my responsibilities**? We consider these the duties associated with being a board member in general, and the duties associated with any specific role you will play. Using our football example – the quarterback and wide receiver are both responsible for memorizing the plays, however; the quarterback is responsible for calling the play and making a good decision on where to throw the ball, the wide receiver is responsible for running his route and catching the ball if it comes to them. The key is they both rely on the other to fulfill their responsibilities. This applies to the Board – members rely on each other to fulfill their individual and collective responsibilities because if one board member “drops the ball” the play is over for the entire team.
4. What expectations do you have of me? This is the result of the Board member fulfilling their responsibilities. The expectation may be a certain amount of money raised, a certain number of colleagues introduced to the organization, attendance at events, etc…. The expectation is the desired result. One reason many people struggle with board service is there aren’t clear expectations, up-front, regarding what the Board and organization expects from each member. So here’s my last football analogy – the quarterback is expected to be able to throw the ball, the wide receiver is expected to be able to catch the ball, the lineman is expected to be able to protect the quarterback, and so on, and so on. They can’t just have the title of the role, they must meet the expectation associated with it. Just like sports, many fail at board service because they wanted the role, but couldn’t handle the responsibilities and expectations that come along with it.

Remember, a quarterback that can’t throw won’t keep his job for long. A receiver that can’t catch won’t keep his job for long and lineman that can’t block won’t keep his job for long. Why??? Because they’re not meeting the expectations of the responsibilities associated with their role. Ask yourself, Am I able to meet the expectations of the responsibilities associated with my role on this Board? If not, then why am I on this Board???

**For a list of sector accepted responsibilities see BoardSource’s 10 Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards.

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