Geoffrey Canada continued session 7 of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit with a talk titled “Changing the Odds.”
He is the President and CEO, Harlem Children’s Zone.
Here are some highlights I grabbed from his interview with Nancy Beach:
- We have allowed areas in our nation to become areas of hopelessness.
- When despair rules, young people grow up without God.
- They can’t imagine how to get from here to there without sex, drugs or violence.
What does the Harlem children’s zone do?
- It is more than a school.
- You have to change the neighborhoods, block by block to change a neighborhood.
- We started with one block, then two blocks.
- To change a child, you must start at birth.
The Tipping Point
- A culture begins to take place that works against any efforts to change a neighborhood or change a child.
- A child needs constant reinforcement of the same positive message: hard work, study, integrity, etc.
- They need peers, adults who give them the same message.
- A tipping point in a culture is when you reach 60 – 65% of the population.
The early years
- Failure when nobody knows who you are, you can deal with that quietly and anonymously, failure is much harder to admit when you are known.
- There were people who were rooting against the Harlem children’s zone, looking for ways to point out that it couldn’t be done.
- When you fail, your first inclination is to scale down the vision.
- Instead, admit you failed, try twice as hard to be successful.
- It is easy to forget who you are working for because you are rooting for the staff.
- You don’t work for your staff that is not your mission.
- The way you build a more powerful organization is you demand excellence from staff and hold people accountable.
How do you handle donor pressure?
- The donor is like the customer who is always right.
- There is a line when the gift can detract from your work.
- If you need the money, it is hard to see how getting the money can hurt you, but it can hurt your vision if they aren’t on board.
- Sometimes not taking the money from a donor is the smartest thing you can do.
How has your leadership style changed over the years?
- Compassion has grown, as you understand how difficult and huge your dream is.
- You feel a stronger sense of urgency the longer you lead and the bigger you see the need getting.
- When we say “you can’t do that” is crazy. When we as Americans decide we are going to do something, we get it done.
- You can’t get great and talented people who can run the institution if you don’t know as the senior leader when you are stepping down.
- Too many leaders leave the organization when the organization is on the way down not when it is going up. Leave when it is growing and going up.
What do you do when you are disappointed? When you want to quit?
- You are a moment away from a breakthrough, greatness. You just don’t know how close you are, so keep going.
- There is something about fighting for the right cause.
What would you say to leaders?
- As a leader you always have to be on top your game.
- Get your moral compass right.
What was your biggest takeaway from this session?