Leadership Development

The True Legacy of Tuskegee

My grandfather was a Tuskegee Airman and, while his achievements were impressive and inspiring, they never really mattered to me. All that ever mattered were things accolades, money and prestige can't buy. At the same time Pops wasn't a Werthers-original-in-his-pocket kind of grandfather. He was an uncompromising, tough old bird. When I showed him my A-, he asked why it wasn't an A. If I was bawling like a champ, I had better have a broken bone. He was looking for smarts and sharpness. He had high expectations.

So, it took many years for me to understand him, with those last few being a real joy for us both. But, I didn't truly appreciate him as a complex human being until his passing. Fellow members from the East Coast Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.(ECCTAI) spoke at the funeral, sharing stories of his commitment to the organization from its founding. And, most especially, his friends spoke of Grandfather's commitment to young people.

ECCTAI has a Youth in Aviation Program (YIAP), which introduces youth to aviation and trains them to fly.  All those years, I'd never known how he championed the program, or the difference he made in the lives of the young people he mentored through encouragement and his example. To think, we shared a passion for youth empowerment we'd never discussed, and that he'd touched lives so directly and personally.

Now, you might be thinking, "But he did so much for his country as a fighter pilot. And he touched lives by trailblazing." Yes, indeed, he did. However, all too often, we forget that those we admire have had struggles and set-backs. Young Woody Crockett had another path in mind originally. He was a gifted mathematician who teachers called on to substitute for them, but he couldn't afford tuition and dropped out of college to join the Army. Ever a practical person, when he saw an opportunity to earn more income as a pilot, he pursued it. 

But before that life, he was a talented, promising young person who didn't have a system to support the pursuit of his academic dreams. That's the true legacy of the Tuskegee Experiment -- young men who broke barriers and continued to pay it forward for years to come so others could achieve their dreams. They knew it didn't all end with them.

Not everyone gets an opportunity like training at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Some seven decades later, too many young people balance on the precipice - achieve success or become a statistic. And all too often, that barrier to success may be relatively small, but has far reaching impact.  Transportation costs, choosing between food and books, and lack of mentoring can stop a student in her tracks.  So, I encourage you to make an impact in your own corner of the world by:

  • Voting in the KINDcauses competition for the Hypatian Institute Youth Leadership Fellows program we're launching this fall,

  • making a donation to YIAP (contact ECCTAI President Jerry Burton),

  • taking the lead to mentor a young person in your life,

  • providing internships,

  • speaking at workshops for teens, or

  • donating to organizations that provide the wrap-around services to create support networks for promising youth.

And if you comment below, you're absolutely welcome to share how the Tuskegee Airmen have inspired you, but I sure would love to hear how you're helping young people, too.

Our Promise to the Next Generation

via iStock.com   

via iStock.com


When we tell our children they can be anything they want, what does that really mean? We encourage and support. We caution about as yet unknown but survivable challenges. But, do we really prepare them to resiliently, resourcefully and relentlessly pursue their dreams?

There are three keys to meeting the challenges life doles out regularly -- gaining knowledge, understanding possibilities and harnessing potential. You have to build the knowledge to see and understand possibilities, which you learn to leverage in order to determine and reach your potential. These three keys are not only interconnected, they're interdependent building blocks.

Some of us are lucky enough to grow up around those who mentor and shape our young minds, imparting these keys -- often without even realizing it. However, some of us grow up with limited access and resources that could help foster personal growth. This creates a competitive advantage gap, and closing that gap is the purpose of the Hypatian Institute, Inc.

As an organization dedicated to life-long leadership education and development from youth to seasoned professionals, we're excited to roll out our first program, College Fellowship, in the next couple of months. Talented young people from low access communities are particularly vulnerable during the transition to college. Not only are they entering a new environment, but an entirely unknown world. Our goals are to develop confidence, resiliency and resourcefulness, and to enhance skills through a curriculum focused on problem-solving and community service.

We're inspired by the experiences of youth in programs that realize a 30% higher matriculation rate. Of youth, who with the support of those around them, are able to achieve success rather than become a statistic. You can help by voting for the program at KINDcauses where the Hypatian Institute is competing for $10,000. You can also help every day by:

  • taking the lead to mentor a young person in your life,
  • providing internships,
  • speaking at workshops for teens (including the Fellows program), and
  • donating to organizations that provide the wrap-around services to create support networks for promising youth.

We hope you'll vote today at http://bit.ly/VoteFellows (and 3 more times!) to support the Institute in delivering on that promise to the next generation.

Cultivate Young Leaders & Be Inspired

(l to r): Eric Dawson, President and Co-founder of PeaceFirst, with 2014 PeaceFirst Prize winners -- Amit Dodani, Matthew Kaplan, Eli Erlick, Imani Henry, and Amanda Matos.

(l to r): Eric Dawson, President and Co-founder of PeaceFirst, with 2014 PeaceFirst Prize winners -- Amit Dodani, Matthew Kaplan, Eli Erlick, Imani Henry, and Amanda Matos.

Last week, I had the privilege of presenting a workshop to Venture Fellows with LearnServe, an organization that identifies high school students with the passion to make a difference and equips them with the knowledge, business tools and relationships they need to transform their schools and communities. Right now, these inspiring young leaders are in the process of developing their business ideas, building teams, learning to budget, and launching their ventures. So, we focused on cultivating contacts and building a network -- especially, how to work a room, finding the courage to initiate contact, and following up.

By season's end, they'll be pitching their ventures to panels of business and community volunteers at the Venture Fair. This was my introduction to the nonprofit last year. We fielded pitches for a range of projects -- peer-to-peer support of homeless teens, connecting nonprofits and potential supporters, bringing clean water to communities abroad, peer-to-peer ESL tutoring, and gamifying women's history. The fair part of the event is a cacophony of noise, excitement and connection as youth present exhibits.

Scott Rechler, Co-Founder and CEO of LearnServe, at February's Snowball Effect Gala that spotlighted the  new Incubator program  and honored social entrepreneurs.

Scott Rechler, Co-Founder and CEO of LearnServe, at February's Snowball Effect Gala that spotlighted the new Incubator program and honored social entrepreneurs.

Want to be inspired by young social entrepreneurs? Serve on a panel for this year's Venture Fair, mentor a Fellow, host a visit at your business for Fellows, or make a donation.

How did I get involved with LearnServe? I met Co-Founder and CEO Scott Rechler at an advisory board meeting for PeaceFirst, an organization that exists to create the next generation of peacemakers. They view children as natural problem-solvers and creative thinkers, and invest in their ability to see themselves as leaders. Formerly PeaceGames, the organization pivoted a few years ago, releasing its K-8 peacemaking and conflict resolution curriculum to educators and the public for FREE, and started recognizing young social change agents with a national award.

Over the past two years, 15 young peacemakers have each received $25,000 to pursue their social ventures and realize their dreams. PeaceFirst Prize nominees and recipients demonstrate compassion, courage and collaborative change. Ranging in age from 10 to 22, past winners include:

This year, PeaceFirst is expecting to surpass 2014's response, with applications from all 50 states anticipated by the March 31 deadline. You can help by nominating a young person who's making a difference in your community, encouraging him or her to apply for the prize, becoming a supporter, or making a donation.

Eric Dawson, friend and Co-founder and CEO of PeaceFirst, began a recent call with supporters by asking about what was happening in our lives that brings joy. Well,LearnServe and PeaceFirst are two of those things that bring me joy. It's a gift to be able to share my lessons with young social entrepreneurs and be inspired by their ventures, and to spread the positive messages of these organizations. And, I hope you will become involved and find joy in them, too.

6 Strategies for Developing Your Unique Leadership Voice

Image credit Jason Ralston

Image credit Jason Ralston

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a talk by award-winning radio journalist Bob Edwards. He delivered a candid, intriguing presentation on the art of interviewing at the National Press Club. Between audio clips and stories about the making of those interviews, Edwards answered several questions. However, it was his answer to my question surprised me most.

When asked about his biggest lesson in the field, Edwards didn't talk about how to ensure balance in a story, or question preparation strategy, or even mastering new topics. He focused on a leadership challenge -- finding his own distinctive voice. His hardest habit to break was abandoning the voice of a journalist he'd long admired, and creating that unique sound, style and cadence we've all come to recognize through his more than 30 years in radio. 

This is relevant not only to broadcasters, but to those of us who seek to carve out a place in the world -- journalists and freelancers, researchers, performers, consultants and so on. Discovering and wielding our authentic voices -- through the flood of others' voices -- is a skill that's key to growth and personal development. It's that voice that guides decisions and reflects values. It's that unique voice that inspires and engenders confidence, trust and respect in those with whom we interact.

And yet, setting on that path to a unique authentic voice can be difficult to accomplish. What are some strategies to harness your unique voice?

  1. Determine your own definitions of progress and success

  2. Learn from the hard-won lessons of those who came before you

  3. Approach your work and life with questions before settling on the answers

  4. Be present

  5. Evaluate information with a critical eye and healthy skepticism

  6. Listen with respect and attention to others' points of view

This approach will lead to crafting your own informed perspective while fostering effective and constructive communication with those around you. It's respectful of difference and assists in identifying -- for yourself and others -- where that difference of viewpoint lies. And, this framework allows you to discover, as well as rediscover, your authentic leadership voice and style.

Keystones - A Lesson from Dr. King & Civil Rights Leaders

As we reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy and the principles freedom, equality and empowerment, we shouldn't overlook the leadership lessons he and the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement have left us. One of which is to focus on keystones.

Dr. King was tenacious in his pursuit of equal voting rights. He and his partners in the Movement recognized the importance of what so many of us take for granted today - the ripple effect resulting from having the right to vote.

  1. Municipalities build juries from the rolls of registered voters, and they, in turn, are eligible to serve on juries.

  2. Juries decide who receives justice -- including in cases involving elected officials.

  3. Only registered voters choose elected officials.

And the key to that whole series of connected facts was possessing the right to vote. This was critical to realizing social justice and human rights for African Americans.

Myriad distractions can lead us off track away from our goals, endangering our ventures. Leaders must navigate this minefield to identify the factors for success with a keystone impact that will influence major milestones. In planning to achieve your vision, consider:

  • What goal, above all others, will lead to what you've envisioned?

  • Where is the ripple effect? Which factors most impact other factors?

  • What must you achieve to realize the biggest payoff for your venture?

Pursue the keystones and you will remain focused on the most important priorities, as well as best positioned to see and leverage opportunities.