I channel my desire to make an impact by helping companies, organizations, and entrepreneurs integrate broader missions into their work culture.
This desire comes from listening to my gut brain, which leads us toward working with others, to creating connection. As I've written before, we have three brains: head, heart and gut. Each complements the other, providing clarity, emotional resonance, or a sense of moral compass, in different ways.
For me, my gut brain led me to engage with the city of Baltimore, to do my civic duty by using the tools I have created in my company SHIFT.
It didn't always work out as we wished, since you cannot control what others do or how others think. But it's always a worthwhile effort to take a positive action. In my case, engagement took the form of advising the Baltimore City council.
Here's how it came about. In the spring of 2016, 25-year-old Freddie Gray was arrested by Baltimore police, and later died in the hospital. The public reacted with outrage, and a lawyer hired by the family agrees that the arrest was unjust, saying, “Running while black is not probable cause.”
After the Freddie Gray episode, the Baltimore City school board chairman approached SHIFT, asking for help. Coincidentally, this is the man who’d been selected over me for the position I had coveted years before (they made the right call!). He wanted SHIFT’s support with interviewing and assessing candidates for the position of Baltimore City school board CEO.
My wife, who works in PR, sized up the opportunity as a no-win situation.
If the eventual CEO worked out, she argued, then nobody would care that we played a role in the selection process. On the other hand, if the recommended candidate ended up being a disaster, the press would surely come knocking when looking for someone to blame. They’d criticize placing the process in the hands of a private corporation, and we’d be held up as an example of greed ruining the public-school system.
This seemed like the more probable outcome given that the average tenure of a city superintendent in an urban environment is less than two years. Being publicly blamed for a major failure of the public-school system wouldn’t be good for business. Logic was suggesting we lean out. But civic duty called, and we decided to lean in.
We made the vetting process as transparent as humanly possible. Ultimately, the board independently selected the candidate we recommended.
Still, it didn’t take long to catch flak from the press. Immediately, there were articles about the “secretive” and “underhanded” process to select the new board CEO. To the critics, it didn’t matter that we were putting our best foot forward and acting with the city’s interest in mind. We’d worked long and hard to build a solid reputation, and it sucked that this one episode threatened to damage our integrity.
I had been naïve about the political power plays in the city. But by using my gut brain to engage in a higher purpose – to serve the city that I love – I had to accept the good with the bad. The important thing is to act, and to let go of the results.
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