There Is Hope!

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the Mi Futuro mentoring program graduation. 

For those of you unfamiliar, Mi Futuro (which means My Future in Spanish) is an 8th Grade mentoring program that was started three years ago spawned from an idea shared by a couple Walmart Associates.  Volunteer mentors from  Walmart/Sam’s Club spend one hour a month with a group of handpicked students over the course of their school year.   They discuss topics ranging from goal setting, to public speaking, to high school prep, to college prep and beyond.  The goal is encourage the students to think broader and more positively about their future.

This is the third school year we’ve done this.  And the program has grown extensively, much to some Associate leaders’ vision and dedication.   The first class started with one school and 26 students.  This year, there were 8 participating schools with 13 mentoring groups and over 300 students participating in the program.

Initially, the program was targeted at Hispanic students that showed promise, but were at risk (whether due to family situations, social influences, etc.).  The program now represents total school demographics, but still targets those same promising students that are at risk.

Next year, the goal is to reach over 1,500 students and have over 50 schools represented across the United States.

The reason I write all of this comes down to a couple statements made by students during the program.

First, the self awareness of these students was a little surprising to me.  While talking about the program and her future, one of the students said, “I don’t want to get lost in the crowd.”  Then she continued on to talk about her dreams and how she was going to succeed.  Her determination was admirable!  It was a proud moment for every mentor in the room.

Second, and perhaps more impactful, was a statement made by one of the students from the first year of the program.  We had three students from the first year (now sophomores in high school) talk about the impact of the program on them and the lessons learned from their two years of seniority over the kids in the audience.  This student, who was the least formally dressed of the three, who started every sentence with “I guess…” said something incredibly profound.  He said, “I will be the first to go to college from my family.”  Then he said, “I want my little brother to follow in my footsteps.

This statement took my breath away and made tears well up in my eyes.  Here is a sophomore in high school that was mentored and is now mentoring and setting an example for his little brother.   This is what it is all about.

In that moment, it was clear that this precious investment of time that the mentors provide these students is making a difference.

Often when we talk about mentoring at work we’re thinking about either our own professional development and/or how we are developing others in their positions or skills (which is important!).  Rarely though do I hear about people developing our next generation on a continuous basis.

But, as we get older, we realize how fast the time goes and we start to see the bigger picture.  If we don’t take the time to mentor, develop, grow, shape, and inspire our future generation what will the future hold for our society?

The good news?  There is hope!  I saw it and heard it yesterday.

My challenge to you is to find time to invest in the upcoming generation on a continuous basis.   Whether it’s Mi Futuro (for you Walmart/Sam’s Club associates), the Boys and Girls Club, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, a church youth program, or some other youth program – INVEST in the future of a child.  If we all joined in this investment just imagine what the future could hold.  There is great hope in our future!

Will you rise to the challenge?

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4 Steps to Doing the Right Thing

Do you do the right thing?

I want to revisit where we were last time – talking about Integrity.  This is a timeless topic, but in recent days is timelier than ever before.

Before we get to far away from it, I also want to revisit the example we were using previously in talking about the University of Arkansas Head Football Coach situation.  While I don’t want to draw too much attention to this situation I do want to take a different look at it – this time through the lens of the actions and decisions of the Athletic Director Jeff Long.

While the coach’s actions brought about a very public ethical dilemma, Long’s response/reaction mitigated a lot of the negative that the coach had created and may have created an even greater positive focus on the integrity of the program that will have long lasting positive effects. 

He showed that the university valued ethical behavior over a winning coach, which is a lesson in and of itself not only the players, students, coaches, faculty, and fans, but for us as well.

How often do we focus on the results over how we achieved the results?  This plays out in business all the time.  Our job as leaders with integrity is to ensure our people understand the importance of the ‘how’.

Most interestingly for me was the ‘how’ in the way that Jeff Long tackled this ethical dilemma.  I’ve categorized these in to four distinct areas of action that were taken.

  • Acknowledge.  Houston, we have a problem.  Have you ever tried to avoid a negative situation because you know that it’s going to be painful and energy consuming?  I have.  But when it comes to ethical dilemmas we really can’t just sit on the fence and wait for things to blow over.  We need to deal with it.

When confronted initially with the situation, the first thing that Long did was acknowledge it.  While this was a very public situation for the university, he didn’t try to hide it. Instead, he stood in front of reporters and told them what he knew.  More importantly, he also said that he didn’t know everything and didn’t succumb to the requests to speculate. 

  • Set Expectations.  Okay…so we know have a problem.  Now what?  You need to define what needs to happen next.  And whether that is simply for your own benefit to organize or to publicly let others know what your plan of action is, definition is important because it gives you structure for dealing with the situation.  Jeff Long did this very well. Once he acknowledged the situation, he said, “Here is what I’m going to do next.”  He didn’t paint himself in to a corner either by setting artificial timelines.  He simply said, “Here is what we are going to do.”  And more important than setting the expectation for himself and the public, he followed through on what he said, which improved his credibility significantly.
  • Consult.  Do I need to shoulder all of this responsibility myself?  Absolutely not.  While I don’t possess a PhD in human psychology, I have a hard time believing that humans are built to handle tough decisions alone.  We have a safety net of people that make up our social sphere that help guide us along the way.  This may be your parents, or a sibling, best friend, pastor, boss, career mentor, legal resource, counselor, or other source.  The fact is, gaining other perspectives on tough decisions is a great idea.  I know that I use a network of trusted people in my life to help give me perspective all of the time.

In his statement, Long stated that he sought counsel and perspective from others.  Undoubtedly, there were very different perspectives presented, but in the end, he had to take in all of the information, filter, and then make the best possible decision.  The same is true for all of us.

  • Decide and Act.   Making tough decisions isn’t easy.  Acting upon them is sometimes even harder.  As I looked at these two actions, I thought about splitting them out in to their own points.  But as I looked closer, I believe that you can’t separate them because they are absolutely interconnected. 

As a leader, you can’t decide and then not act. If you don’t act then you really didn’t do anything, now did you?  Leaders make and act on tough decisions.  Don’t forget that.  If you can’t, then being in a leadership position may not be for you.

At the end of the day, Long made a very tough decision.  He made the right decision (in my opinion).  But he didn’t stop at the decision.  He followed through with action.  He terminated the coach, he started a search for a new coach, and then hired a new coach.

One other side note and observation that I wanted to cover is the compassion that Long exhibited in the handling of the situation.  Not only was he sensitive to all that were impacted in the words that he used and privacy he maintained,  but his tone, demeanor, and delivery conveyed that he really cared about all of those involved (including the coach).  Following the above steps in a sterile manner may get you through the situation, but what people will remember is your sincerity and how you made them feel about it.

Every ethical decision that you come to in life may not be hyper-complex.  Some may be much more black and white and easy to quickly determine.  However, I’m confident that you will experience at least one or more difficult, complex, ‘gray’ decisions to make in your life.

Having a framework to approach and deal with these situations will be very important to your success.  Just remember to be sincere and compassionate as you face these challenges.

As leaders, we all have tough decisions to make.  Many may not be as public or complex as the one that Jeff Long faced, but tough decisions nonetheless.  While none of us are perfect, having the right tools in our toolbox will help us when those tough decisions come along.

My questions for you are:

  • Will you step up when it’s your time? 
  • Will you make the right decision when no one else is looking? 
  • Will you act with integrity? 
  • Will you teach integrity to those that look up to you?
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