Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Geoffrey Canada’s Thoughts on Leadership

If you saw Waiting for Superman, a documentary on the state of public education in America, you might recognize Geoffrey Canada. The president of Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), Canada transformed the organization in the late 90s into a center that actively follows the academic careers of youths in a 24-block area of Harlem. The model was so successful, that today the area covers 97 blocks. The New York Times calls it “one of the biggest social experiments of our time.” President Obama announced plans to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) model in 20 other cities in the US.

Harlem Children’s Zone isn’t simply helping children beat the odds, it’s helping to change the odds.

• Leadership by consensus sounds good, but it’s difficult because persuading everyone to do one thing is almost impossible.

• When you move away from a “leadership by consensus” model, people might not like you. They’ll think you’re in charge and want to do things your way. Being a good manager and having people like you aren’t always the same thing.

• Trying to persuade people to do things your way can be a waste of time. You might be better off to thank them for their difference of opinion, suggest they do something else with their life, and proceed with the people who are ready to move forward.

• A leader’s approach should be to respect people’s opinions and listen to the issues, but once a decision is made, people have to make it their job to carry it out. 

• Sometimes leaders have to make decisions that are risky, but risk-taking can be important in moving your organization forward. 

• A leader must drive the team to innovate. Help them figure out how to do things better and smarter. It’s a constant process.

• Innovation doesn’t last forever. In fact, it will last for about 18 months. If you don’t come back and reenergize it after 18 months, it will go downhill.

• People get excited about brand new ideas, but you must pay attention to the things that are fundamental to your business or organization. 

• Assure people on your team that there’s no negative side to bringing up a problem and asking for support. 

• To manage well, a leader must understand the underlying dynamics of a group. Be transparent with your team and that will help neutralize some of the anxiety in a group, then you can be about solving problems. 

• Be willing to learn from those who are doing things better than you are.

• No one wants to have “difficult” conversations and few are trained to do it. But a leader must be willing to tell people the truth. 

• Work with people who have struggled to do difficult things. Someone who has never experienced a setback may have a tough time working for your organization. Hire people who are the best and who are on a mission to make your business or organization better than it is. 

• Steer away from hiring people who see the job as an extension of their ego or who want to use it to their personal advantage. 

• Hire people with a decent sense of humor. Most of us work hard doing hard work and are under a lot of stress. If the workplace has a healthy sense of humor, you can take yourselves seriously and make fun of yourselves at the same time.
(Adapted from “The Corner Office” by Adam Bryant, Times Books)

View Geoffrey Canada in a segment of Meet the Press that addressed Education Nation.

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