Fed up? 3 leadership strategies to fix any problem

Image courtesy of Flickr user Michelhrv

"I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

That rant, which Paddy Chayefsky used to great effect in his film Network, usually results in people getting hurt.

But not always! Being fed up doesn't have to equate to rage or getting even. It can result in positive things. Two recent news stories made me realize, as Harvard professor and author Rosabeth Moss Kanter would say, "we change only when it hurts too much not to change."

The first proof of this is the work that criminologist David M. Kennedy is doing to help communities rid themselves of drugs and their ill effects in their neighborhoods. Speaking on NPR's Fresh Air, Kennedy laid out his plan. It's startlingly simple. One, bring in the gangbangers or dealers. Two, be straight with them (to ensure them it's not a setup.) Three, have community leaders, ex-gang members and even family members speak to them. And four, have the cops promise to be hands-off if they get out of the business immediately. If they don't comply, they will soon be locked up.

Believe it or not, as Kennedy relates in his book, Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship and the End of Violence in Inner City America, it actually works. Maybe not always the first time, but soon enough. Once the trio of community, family and cops work together, the dealers disappear and the streets get cleaned up.

Another example is the Create Jobs for USA Fund, a program the Opportunity Finance Network is supporting. Bolstered by an initial $5 million grant from Starbucks Foundation, the Create Jobs for USA helps local businesses hire local workers so that the unemployed can find work and communities can return to a degree of normalcy.

The fund is designed to be sustainable since the money is not given away, it is loaned. As Mark Pinsky, head of the Opportunity Finance Network says, "we are not profit-maximizing." The intention is to give borrowers the "help they need to succeed."

The unifying factor in both endeavors is purpose: a strong commitment to do something good for others. The purpose is larger than any individual but thanks to hard work and clear thinking these men and women are making a positive difference.

The lesson for leaders can be summed up by one of my favorite quotes: "Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do." John Wooden, legendary basketball coach, adapted those words from a statement by the British sociologist John Ruskin. Speaking honestly, the odds are stacked against community activists battling drug dealers, or organizations striving to help small businesses create jobs.

No matter. Strong leaders consider the odds but do not let them overwhelm them. And so there are three questions any leader seeking to swim against the current in his organization and his community must ask:

What is the problem? Obvious question, sure, but so often problems seem so immense we react blindly. We cannot see the forest for the trees. In this regard Kennedy's approach provides a road map. Break the problem down into more manageable parts. In this case: end violence by getting rid of the drug hustlers.

How can I involve others? Few leaders can do anything by themselves. Again, Kennedy's enlistment of the community and the police -- who do not always see eye to eye -- ensures there will be a united front as well as a supportive network for the drug offenders who do want to get out of the game.

How can I sustain it? Create Jobs for USA is not a handout. It seeks to stimulate community renewal by helping local businesses provide training and employment. It's a variation on the saying, "Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime."

Yes, you may fail, but remember this: Sometimes you can't stand it any longer and you have to push back. Being fed up enough to become active is the catalyst for action. Good leaders know how to channel their anger and turn it into commitment for a good cause.

Good for them, and good for us!

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