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Staff Leadership and Management

We Shouldn’t Fear Our Leaders: 3 Reminders for the Next Generation

leadership and character

The changes are becoming apparent.

The transition is here. Individuals who once ran programs at a site level are now in positions of leadership at a state level. This is the moment that we have waited for with much anticipation and excitement. This is the conversation that we have had late into the night at several BOOST conferences.

So it is in this moment that I remind myself that leadership at its core is about character. I’m reminded of a quote from President Abraham Lincoln, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” I’ve experienced many “leaders” in my over 20 years in the field; some inspiring, compassionate, visionary and some insecure, harsh, and petty. Of course no one would label themselves as insecure, harsh or petty, yet I’ve experienced and encountered colleagues in the field who have shared their utter terror of working with their respective ‘leaders.’

Where does this come from? How will we be different? And how will we be grounded to follow our examples of inspiring, compassionate, visionary leaders?

The first quote that came to mind when I began asking these questions was from the movie A Bronx Tale. Lorenzo sharing with his son ‘C’ that the neighborhood gangster is ‘respected’ because “People don’t love him, they fear him.” And I thought this is how some ‘leaders’ run their organizations – like bully’s on the playground…out of fear and with a “agree with me or I will humiliate you” mentality. I believe we deserve better. The field deserves better.

So here are three things that I learned from President Obama when he met with his young campaign team after winning the election.

I share this to remind myself and any new or emerging leader.


You will always be you. Own it. This means being vulnerable enough to say, “I don’t know.” This also means you’ve been able to excel in the field because you didn’t have all the answers but worked diligently to find the answer. As we say in our common day vernacular, “real recognizes real.” This is something I learned at the site. Young people can sniff out a ‘poser’ and/or adults who are fake.


Houston Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon was once asked in an interview who he looked up to in the NBA. He answered, “The person who comes in here after the game and cleans all of our mess.” Never forget where you came from, both personally and professionally. Remember the grit. Remember the struggle. And please do not get it misconstrued. I’m not talking about a self-deprecating humility. Mark W. Merril said it best, “Humility does not mean you think less of yourself. It just means you think more of others.”


While some saw an ‘at-risk’ kid, we saw a young person who could mobilize the entire 8th grade. When others saw Fridays being the lowest attendance days in after school programs, we saw FreeStyle Fridays. When some saw the dread of detention we saw the hope and promise of after school. This is a quality that I deeply admire in my colleague Carlos Santini. In the midst of the storm, be it budget cuts, losing a site, or organizational disarray, I would be freaking out and about to crack under pressure and he would remind us that we have always done the extraordinary and produced miracles.

It’s all About Your Character

So now as the field of expanded learning dawns a new era and the next generation of leaders begin to fill critical positions, remember it’s all about character. No matter how high you go up or how long you’ve been doing this work, it’s your character that will echo through time…that’s the real lesson. The lesson of when becoming role models transform into being real models.

It’s when this character development thing becomes a lived reality, regardless of age, title or responsibility. The wisdom of Bruce Lee shares this sentiment, “Knowledge will give you power… but character respect.”

For breakfast I had two sunny-side up eggs and pancakes with a cup of coffee… Courtesy of my amazing team at ASAPconnect for Boss’s Day. Pretty cool!

Author Profile: @diegoarancibia

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