Two men yelling at each other

Creating Positive Change in a Turbulent World: It’s Up to Us

Webster’s Dictionary defines zero-sum as, “Of, relating to, or being a situation (such as a game or relationship) in which a gain for one side entails a corresponding loss for the other side.” It also defines bigotry as, “Intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself.” These two definitions come straight from the dictionary and are not my own words. However, I believe one would be hard pressed not to see that to a large degree when coupled together they clearly define what we are witnessing in the hyper-partisan atmosphere of our nation and in nations around the globe.

Politics have always been divisive by nature and to some degree by design. Yet there is a major difference between today’s politics and those prior to the twenty-first century.  Today, politics are fed by a twenty-four-hour news cycle driven by media outlets as angrily divided as our political extremes and an onslaught of social media platforms where misinformation runs rampant. The caustic politics of division have now reached a fever pitch which is hard, if not impossible, to avoid. To circumvent the damaging effects of our corrosive politics one would have to cut themselves off from the world around them completely taking self-quarantining to an extreme level. A global pandemic and the strongest outpouring of civil unrest in decades happening during an election year serves to add fuel to the fire and fan the flames of division. We all live in concerning times to say the least.

The picture of our nation and its politics I’ve painted above is not a pretty one nor should it be. As a nation we have very real, very relevant, and very raw issues to deal with. Keeping this in mind, I would propose to you that no single political party or elected official can bring peace and calm to our nation or the communities we call home. Realistically, political parties are based upon the principle of dividing and conquering to win elections as opposed to uniting citizens from all walks of life in victories which will overcome the major issues of our time while helping to heal our nation. Asking political parties to heal our nation would be akin to me asking the guy who broke my jaw in a bar fight to set it for me and having faith it would heal properly.

So how do we fix a problem so entrenched and begin to heal a nation that is fractured in so many ways? Though there is no quick fix and it will take a sustained effort, I honestly believe there is hope. It is my firm belief that these efforts must begin at the local level with a heightened level of civic engagement and a commitment to actively engaging the next generation of leaders. Real change in our nation isn’t going to begin in Washington or on Wall Street, it’s going to begin on Main Street at the grassroots level with local leaders uniting those they serve and making their communities the best places they can be. Real and sustainable change for the better in our nation will not come through any of us putting our trust blindly in the hands of any political party.  It will come from us putting our trust in ourselves and each other. At this critical juncture in world history, we must all be the change we want to see in our world.

I recently served as a panelist for a human rights forum on a local podcast called “Drop the Dis.”  The other panelists joining me were civil rights activist Ray Montana, Captain Charles Mitchell of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Department and Augusta University sociology professor Dr. Todd Powell-Williams. The two-hour conversation was wide ranging and covered the topics of defining/explaining the Black Lives Matter movement, Augusta and criminal justice, improving our world together and speaking to the people. During the open and honest conversation, we each respectfully listened to each other’s diverse viewpoints on race relations and social equity. All of us agreed that the forum was both enlightening and productive as we discussed ways we could all work together to proactively address racial issues locally.

At the end of the conversation I was asked by cohost David Bash what gives me hope for the future. My answer was simple: he, his cohost Chris Nabholtz, and their generation foster in me a sense of hope. When asked to elaborate I shared with them the simple fact that two twenty-somethings with a passion for addressing race relations in Augusta were able to put together an event which will help shape the future of our community was inspiring to me and to all involved. They didn’t wait for someone else to put together a forum that can now be listened to and used to benefit our community as well as others. They stepped up to the plate to be the change they were looking for and I’m proud to call these young changemakers my friends.

Today we live in a troubled world, but this is nothing new. The great challenges facing our nation and all of humanity may shift from generation to generation but there will always be challenges. For me, the fundamental question for leaders of all ages and every walk of life is: how do we unite to not just talk about these challenges but to address them head on?

Over the past year, I’ve connected with changemaking leaders of the same mindset from around the globe. This shows me that a virtual world offers the greatest opportunity we’ve had to unite communities worldwide to address our greatest challenges. Although policy must ultimately be a part of the solution, policy makers must listen to those whose voices aren’t often heard in the political process who want real solutions as opposed to zero-sum politics as usual. Listening to the voices of the younger generation of leaders at home and abroad is key to fostering change in that they will ultimately inherit the issues that those who came before them helped to create.

In the end, creating positive and sustainable change in our communities and in our world isn’t up to politicians; it’s up to us.


Leading Through Crisis: The Complexity of Our Situation

I’ve written a great deal about the critical need for leaders to proactively combat the rapid spread of misinformation during a crisis, particularly one of the epic proportions we’re now experiencing. As the global pandemic has taken hold, I’ve found myself a keen observer of both the information coming out around it and the response to it. I recently shared with my wife the sheer complexity of dealing with our current situation logistically on every level and the confusion this has had a tendency to create with the general public. With a multitude of varying emergency orders issued by state and local governments alone, I’ve found it to be a case where average citizens and local businesses are not quite clear with what and whose rules they need to adhere to. With this in mind, I’m hopeful that this blog will help to provide some valuable perspective with regards to the overall complexity of the situation.

Here in Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has announced a gradual easing of restrictions on his Shelter-in-Place Order originally issued on April 2nd. The lifting of restrictions began on April 24th and included gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetology hair design, esthetics, nail care schools, and massage therapists. On April 27th restrictions were lifted on theaters, private social clubs, and restaurant dine-in services. The timing on the lifting of restrictions by any governor is open to debate which I’m certain will be ongoing in the months ahead. However, one observation I would like to make is that businesses returning to some sort of new normal will ultimately be consumer-driven as we all begin to derive a comfort level with any degree of public interaction which we deem to be safe for ourselves and our families.

I was discussing this line of thought with a local retail business owner recently who clearly stated that the reopening of her physical locations will depend on her client’s level of comfort with in-store shopping. As an avid fitness enthusiast, I would love nothing more than to head to my chosen gym for a good workout after more than a month away but admittedly I’m not ready to go back quite yet. I also love movies and would welcome a little escapism at this point as I know we all would. However, sitting in a movie theater and hearing someone sneeze in the dark would definitely cause me concern, warranted or not. Ultimately, we each have choices to make with regards to when we feel comfortable with public interactions and to what degree, but I use these examples to underscore the fact that in reality consumer confidence is something which simply can’t be legislated.

I’ll use a real-world example to illustrate another level of complexity as it pertains to the federal government’s response to address our struggling economy. In 2009 while serving as mayor, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRCA) was approved to address our nation’s economic meltdown and subsequent Great Recession. The spending bill generated $831 billion in funding which is dwarfed by the $2.2 trillion in funding generated by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). I am in no way a trained economist, but I can speak directly to having had the experience of accessing and implementing the ARRCA funds from a local government perspective. One thing I learned early on is that it’s literally impossible for the federal government to develop comprehensive rules and regulations regarding the implementation of funding packages this massive while appropriating the funds in such an expeditious manner. Simply put, my firsthand experience was that our federal system simply isn’t designed for cash infusions this large and I fully expect there will be some difficulties distributing these funds due to this simple fact.

Realistically, opening back up our economy and returning to societal norms will not happen with the flip of a switch and is not under the purveyance of any one governmental entity. In a scenario so complex with an overwhelming global impact, our emergence from this pandemic will simply take time and patience the likes of which most of us have never had to call on in what has become a vastly impatient society. I have no doubt at all that we will all get through this together as stories of the triumph of the human spirit in communities worldwide grow exponentially every day. I honestly believe that the shared experience of going through this as one global community gives us all a common ground to rally around and that we, as a society, will ultimately emerge stronger for it. I hope that this blog provides some perspective which each of you may find useful and please know I consider myself truly blessed to have a platform to communicate with you all on a regular basis.

leading remotely

Leading Your Team Remotely During a Crisis

As we’ve entered into an unprecedented period in history due to the global pandemic we’re all facing, the fact that the need to lead our team’s remotely for the foreseeable future has become paramount. Whether it be communicating with your clients, your constituents, your employees, or your family, doing so remotely is the safest and easiest way to do it. I’ve long been a proponent of in-person meetings whenever possible but sadly this is no longer an option in today’s world. However, modern technology has made leading remotely more effective than ever before.

To illustrate my point, I’ll use a real-world example. In February of 2014, my final year in office, Augusta was hit with an ice storm so severe it became known as “the storm of the century”.  As the storm descended, our community was faced with massive power outages and impassable roads. Being unable to leave home for a short period, I set up a mobile command post in my kitchen with two cell phones and an iPad to stay in constant contact with my team as well as state agencies, power companies, and the governor’s office. Through this, I was able to disseminate accurate information to my constituents in real-time. I realized early on that in spite of the power outages most people still had cell phone access, so I used Twitter as a platform to share critical information in a timely manner. Basically, I had to make it up as I went along but I knew two things: accurate information flow is critical while leading in a crisis and modern technology had given me a platform to meet the need.

In the span of six years, technology and ways to directly communicate have made huge strides forward. Quick and easy teleconferencing platforms were not widely used here locally and weren’t an option I had the time to consider in the moment back in 2014. However, today there are multiple platforms available that are currently being used by leaders in business, government, and every other sector to effectively communicate with their teams remotely. Although I would hope that working from home and leading remotely doesn’t become the new normal, what leaders everywhere are learning from our current situation will help us better understand how to lead in difficult circumstances in the future. Moving forward I’m hopeful we’ll all find ways to apply these lessons learned in a beneficial manner on a much lesser scale to what we’re facing today.

As an eternal optimist, I’ve now come to understand some of the tangible benefits of leading remotely. Having spent nine years as mayor, I presided over many meetings where a vocal minority attempted to highjack the proceedings, oftentimes with some degree of success. With emotions running high, this type of meeting can begin to veer out of control as things become heated and tempers flare. During a teleconference recently with some colleagues from Australia, it dawned on me that this type of platform doesn’t lend itself to allowing for raw emotion to take over a meeting. Having all of your team members on an equal footing with equal time to share their input can actually lead to better, more civil, and more effective communication at critical junctures where emotions need to be held in check. This form of communication can also be used to provide greater transparency to our leadership efforts during a time of crisis which is crucial.

One thing I’ve always stressed is that every crisis ultimately leads to innovation, which is exactly what I’m seeing around our nation and around the upside-down world we find ourselves living in today. Leaders everywhere are coming up with innovative ways to contribute to the global fight against COVID-19 while still adhering to the critical need for social distancing. Factories are being retooled, new treatments and vaccines are being created, and average citizens are contributing to supplying much needed PPE’s for medical workers on the front lines of the fight. In the midst of what is the most challenging global event most of us will ever experience, it is simply inspiring to me to see how individuals everywhere are responding to the challenge by using the technology most of us have access to today to lead both responsibly and remotely. When asked recently what I thought some of the long-term impacts would be when we get through this situation my answer was simple: great challenges have always molded great leaders and I have absolutely no doubt those leaders are being shaped as we speak. Ultimately, in the long run our world will undoubtedly be a better place because people rose to the challenge during a time when strong leadership was needed the most.

Originally posted on ForbesBooks.

Hope for the Future: Connecting with the Next Generation of Leaders

Let’s face it, having the courage to lead with a willingness to be tolerant of other’s views while focusing on reconciliation at all levels seems to be in short supply these days. I would submit to you that blindly following any one ideology in business or politics will never lead to innovation and is certainly not the cure for political polarization. Sometimes it’s easy for me to see why a great many people now doubt that real change is possible in the world as a whole and have adopted the old “it is what it is” mentality.

Believe me, I get it. I’ve gone out on plenty of limbs in my endeavors to challenge the status quo just to have them sawed out from under me and I’ve got the scars to prove it. However, I honestly believe positive change for the better in our nation and in others is not only possible; it’s inevitable. I say this because I’ve listened to the voices of a new generation of up and coming leaders who are simply fed up with the status quo and are willing to work together to change it. Whether it be addressing toxic global political polarization or a win-at-all-costs mindset of some in the business world, this generation is not only ready for positive change but also willing to roll their sleeves, get their hands dirty, and initiate it.

This past fall, I learned that the University of Texas El Paso’s Student Engagement and Leadership Center had found my book and incorporated it into their “Powerful Pages” program for the semester. Having this happen organically and seeing students begin to post pictures on Instagram of themselves reading the book simply touched my heart. After reaching out to the UTEP SELC’s Coordinator for Student Leadership and Inclusion, Jules Flores, I learned that an intern of hers named Victoria Badillo had discovered the book after being asked to find a current and relevant book on leadership to use for the program. Last November I had the opportunity to video conference in with some of the students for their last meeting. The conversation was extremely positive and encouraging. As we closed a young lady from Vietnam named Yiyu Liao told me “I have a tear in my eye. You have given me hope in politics again.” Next month, I’ve been invited to speak at UTEP and needless to say I’m extremely excited to share a message of hope and inspiration with students and faculty alike.

Several weeks ago, I came across an opinion piece in USA Today by a young lady named Amanda Shafer entitled “’Fake governance’ has plagued my generation. Here’s how we rise above it”. I was fascinated by how Amanda’s views of political polarization mirror my own. However, more so than that, I was encouraged to learn of a non-profit Amanda is a part of called BridgeUSA which currently has chapters on seventeen college campuses in the United States and more in Europe through their affiliate BridgeEurope. The organization seeks to work with “America’s future leaders on college campuses to foster spaces wherein a diverse range of ideas can engage one another through the practice of responsible discourse.” After reading the article and researching the tremendously necessary initiative BridgeUSA is undertaking, I reached out to Amanda to applaud the work that the organization is doing as well as to offer my help with their efforts in whatever way they see fit.

When speaking to a Political Science class at Augusta University recently I was asked by a young lady if hope and change were possible given the climate of the world we’re living in these days. My reply was that no endeavor or enterprise built around anger, greed, or seeking power is ever truly sustainable. I then shared with her that it is her generation, a generation not yet completely jaded by the world around them, that gives me hope and inspiration that over time positive change will come and that brighter days lie ahead. I said this with no irony nor doubt. I said it simply because I believe it based on my experiences I’ve highlighted above and many more I’ll continue to document and share as I firmly believe the world can always use a little more hope.

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Millenials looking at phones

The One Thing You Should Understand About Millennials (and Yourself)

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love to chatter in place of exercise.”

Man, these millennials are really something!  They’re entitled, they want to be coddled, and their incessant use of portable devices can just drive you up the wall! This above quote really says it all about them, doesn’t it? It would, if it hadn’t been attributed to Socrates in the 5th Century BC. The more things change, the more it seems they stay the same, particularly as it relates to cross-generational issues.

For many years now I’ve been fascinated by cross-generational relationships in businesses and communities. During my career, I’ve gone from being a young partner in a successful real estate firm in my twenties to a young mayor in my thirties and forties and now find myself as a business owner again in my early fifties.  For me, it’s actually been a strange but wonderful transition to go from being the guy who was told I was “too young” to do certain things, to now serving as a mentor to the younger generation of leaders here in Augusta, Georgia who are often told the same thing.

The quote from Socrates points to the fact that older generations throughout history have often viewed their younger counterparts with disdain and mistrust, and it’s definitely a two-way street. However, I’ve found that when these walls between generations are broken down within businesses and communities the results are very beneficial to all involved.

One of my strong focuses while in office and for the past four years back in the private sector with my consulting business has been to engage next generation leadership. There are some observations I’ve made along the way.  So often I’ve sat in board meetings where the question has been asked: “how do we engage millennials?”.  More times than not, I’ve pointed out that there hasn’t been anyone under the age of forty sitting in the room. I’ve come to the conclusion this would be akin to asking a room full of older, Caucasian men to come up with creative ways to address race relations. Probably not a good idea if you want a positive and impactful outcome.

A recent study showed that 79% of millennials believe “mentorship programs are crucial to their career success”.  Although it often seems that older generations perceive upcoming generations as a threat to take their jobs, this statistic underscores for me the key to unlocking the potential of our businesses and our communities: focusing on pairing the wisdom and life experience of older generations with the energy, ideas, and enthusiasm of the next generation.

We live in a fast-changing world where the pace of change picks up exponentially each day and the younger generation, a generation raised while constantly adjusting to and embracing these changes, has much to give. The more we provide them with mentorship and encouragement across generational lines, the more likely they are to do the same thing for the generation coming behind them.