With age also comes reflection.
Often this reflection is not sought after by the “elderly” but rather triggered. I was recently approached, after doing a keynote, by a disgruntled site coordinator who wanted to know where I found all the “Unbelievable” staff that did all of the inspirational adventures I had just talked about. This question has always been a double edged sword for me. My gut response was to say “First you have to be what you are looking for!” I can’t tell you how many times I have been approached by unmotivated “Dinosaurs” who all tell me, “I can’t find good creative staff, my staff wouldn’t do this, we don’t have a budget for this, we don’t have anybody who can do graphics, etc.” If I were to answer honestly my response would have been, “The best way to improve your program would be to spend all of your time searching hard for just one outstanding, motivated, creatively insane individual and then give them your job.”
My first real leadership experience was as a Company Commander Assistant (drill instructor) in the Navy.
Company Commanders are usually older experienced sailors who have been away from boot camp for a long time. To help these senior petty officers with all the details such as marching and locker inspection they search out outstanding recruits who have just graduated to team with these old salts. The rationale was a “Newbie” had the experience fresh in mind and was “Real Model” of what the Navy wanted as an outcome product of their training. In reality the assistant was responsible for most of the training.
In the Navy a recruit is called a “Maggot. I went straight from being a “Maggot” to being the “Man.” The first lesson I learned in leadership training as a Drill Instructor was to become a “Superman”. You had to be above the recruits (and in fact the average sailor). Long before your recruits even woke up, you had yourself and your uniform “4.0”. You woke them up and put them to bed. You did everything you asked them to do and a little more for the Marine Corp. They needed to see that you were not asking anything of them that you did not of yourself. My job was to set the bar to a level that inspires them to improve. I needed to be the proof that it can be done, whatever it is. My success depended on my recruits believing in me!
The best lesson I learned from the Navy as a future teacher was that you could take fresh, scared, unsure and often dysfunctional young people and turn them into Superheroes.
Let’s be honest, the average recruit is often unskilled and not your college bound. My real job, while appearing to be a tough, unrelentless, 100% Gung-Ho Ass, was to nurture them as a parent. As a parent, you can easily see the hidden virtues of your own children. I was constantly watching, looking for the hidden talents of my misfits. Were you good at running, scholastics, cleaning, marching, shooting, even folding clothes? You then became the company expert. You were large and in charge. You were responsible for the efficiency level of the entire company and the entire company relied on you, reaping the spoils of success and sharing in the punishment of failure. What I witnessed was a development of self worth, confidence, and then improvement in their weaker areas. I also learned that my job as a leader was to make the people I disliked as successful as the ones I liked.
I have often been accused of being “Vain Glorious”, a dreamer with illusions of grandeur for not only myself, but for those around me. I got my biggest test when I was approached by then citizen Arnold Schwarzenegger to launch a “Model Program” in four of the toughest middle schools in LA. You would think having someone like Arnold behind you would make it smooth sailing. Far from it, in reality, expectations were off the chart.
One middle school had a long history of programs promising the moon, opening to great hoopla, and then failing miserably.
Now here I was with the “Terminator” promising to rock the house knowing that Arnold was not going to be there every day to help. The kids signed up expecting Movie Stars. If they were going to stay, I desperately needed my own Superheroes. Going against the grain I was able to convince the Board to recruit from the local neighborhoods and colleges for young people who would like to change kids’ lives. We wanted it up front what our goals were.
We hired staff, more for attitude than skills. Most of our original staff had no Afterschool experience at all. What they all had was PASSION. Even more important, we were given the time up front for meaningful staff training. By the time we launched we all knew each other well.
I fondly refer to this original group of All-Stars as the “Whack-Pack”, and that they were! I told them that in within a year they would be so good at what they were doing that the entire nation would be looking at them. Little did I know just how true this prediction was to become. The Mathmatica report about Middle Schools had just come out and the search for successful programs was underway. In my reality I knew Prop 49 was coming in 12 months and if any program in the state was going to be scrutinized Arnold’s would be. And we were! Our schools had more days dealing with distinguished visitors than days unvisited. So to prepare we started finding staff that were doing anything notable and highlighting their product with not only their staff but the other schools.
Competition can be a powerful force in Jedi training.
Superstars were born often touting new skills, talents, passions that were being shared with the students while they were still being developed. From no knowledge or experience at all videos, newsletters, crazy curriculum, and award winning student projects were born.
Not knowing their limits they found their own corporate sponsors like El Pollo Loco, Burbank Printing and Jamba Juice. They got real rock stars to participate like The Black-Eyed Peas and Tommy the Clown, major sponsors for their students from small skateboards companies to Target. They found donors who supplied bounce houses, printed banners and programs. They nurtured community organizations from custom car clubs to the Sheriff League.
But most of all they became the everyday, all day any day, significant, stable light in their student’s lives. They also drove me nuts. It is extremely difficult to “Release the Hounds” because you never know what they will drag back. You can easily lose control. I had to stay positive and try to assist them in keeping it safe, academic, affordable and keep me out of jail. What I got back was “Unbelievable.”
Recently one of the Superheroes shared with me pictures of a former All-Star, Ricky. Ricky denotes the term special needs in all ways. Without a father in his life Ricky found one with Thierry Gonzalez in the 7th grade. The pictures were of Ricky’s 21st birthday party. It seems he still had a Superhero that flew him from LA to Denver and gave him a weekend he never will forget. I still see these Superheroes from time to time. They are now working at the state level creating replacements, developing new products, have become classroom teachers, and are now running their own programs. Yes Diego, I hope they still remember that they are Superheroes. I sure haven’t forgotten.
It is hard to be a Superhero.
This is especially true if those above you don’t share your beliefs. You are more visable and vulnerable. You face criticism from the uninspired that are often upset because you make them look bad. They look for your kryptonite and use it at will. It is far easier to go with the flow, not rock the boat and strive to just be a shade better than the company’s worst employee to keep your job. Not everyone wants to change the world. The biggest challenge of being a Superhero is keeping your vision without the support, love, rewards and understanding of those around you. So to answer the question poised, “Where did I find my “Unbelievable” staff?” You first have to believe that it can be done and if you want Superheroes working for you, then you better become one yourself!
For breakfast this Retired Superhero ate his prunes, bran muffin, with a poached, no yoke, egg. Yeah right!
Author: Gary Moody