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WARNING: Another leadership life hack article? Curious Reader, rest assured, I write this with you in mind. Be quick. To the point. Elegant and enjoyable. Like a tiny overpriced beverage that your friend gave you for free! Let’s begin by processing that 50% of employees quit their job because of their managers (according to Gallup). This stuff is important, and I like to think that we can do better than a coin flip after a couple hundred thousand years of modern humanity, but who’s counting? To improve the odds, cross three no-no’s off your naughty list, and make three leadership resolutions for the new year. It’s like the opposite of Y2K. …


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Photo by archi archiba on Unsplash

Leadership is like food.

1. We need it.

2. It’s perishable.

3. Healthy is the future.

We need it.

“Someone has to take responsibility for being a leader.” –Toni Morrison

That’s a great nugget. Not a wasted word, and it rings the bell, slaps the face, strips the bed, what have you. If we lived in a utopia, we’d be all set — but we don’t. The world needs leadership because it has problems, and we need people who want to solve them. Most people aspire to be considered a leader, but how many achieve that status?

Evan Sinar of the Global Leadership Forecast suggested, “We’ve seen a continued slippage in leadership bench strength (ready-now leaders who can step in to replace those who retire or move on) — in 2018, only 14% of companies have a strong bench, the lowest number we’ve ever seen” (Caprino, 2018). All great teams need a deep bench, one with people itching to play the game, and not from their phones. …


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Photo by Dom Gould from Pexels

I finished reading Speak with my English class and took off running, trying not to inhale my mask, backpack bouncing against my back. There is no pretty way to run with a backpack. I had a Zoom call with Bouchra and Clémentine, representing The Urban Woman in Belgium. We were discussing how men and women might collaborate to speed up gender equality.

Up until I started GoodMenders, I held a pretty strict no-social-media policy. I used Facebook to remember birthdays and made a LinkedIn profile because my college career office told me to. But, thanks to my business LinkedIn page, a shared connection pointing me to Clémentine’s blog post (“Speeding Up Gender Equality: on Men Building Better Men”), and my fancy new Instagram, here we were. …


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Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

When I was a senior in high school, I told my English teacher that I didn’t read the books. She smiled and told me she could tell. We were sitting on the bleachers after a Socratic seminar — what is it about bleachers and moments? The book I remember not reading the most was 1984. I got as far as man and woman meet for a fling in a field or something before I decided to let old George rest.

Thinking I’d be The Man by not caring too much about school and still doing fine, I took pride in being able to discuss the books without having read them. To a lesser degree, it also could have been because I read to the end of Heart of Darkness and was like, what? …


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Photo by Gabe Pierce on Unsplash

I live in Canaan, NH, and there is a Black Lives Matter gathering in the center of town every Thursday night this summer. I’ve been a couple of times. It’s about 30–40 people. We hold signs and stand on the side of the road. Then, we pack up and go home.

There are just under 4,000 residents in Canaan, but there’s a steady flow of traffic on Route 4 as people are making their 5:00 PM commute. The responses are mixed. They range from the waves and honks and fists–to the middle fingers and exhaust-spewing peel outs and “Says who?!” (responding to “Black Lives Matter”). …


for Tony Hoagland

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At a college poetry reading, I got to speak with the late Tony Hoagland. He’s one of my favorite poets, but of that conversation, I remember almost nothing. What I do remember, quite often, is the message he wrote in my copy of Donkey Gospel (epic title).

For Nick, Great wishes of good writing and teaching to you. Be fierce!

He knew I was taking creative writing and was planning on being a teacher, so that makes sense, but be fierce? Like a tiger?

Those who know me, besides some who saw my dark side as a soccer player, would not describe me as fierce. I rarely yell. I often avoid confrontation, and I like to be the voice-of-reason guy whenever possible. In other words, not fierce, which is why Hoagland’s advice has been crucial. …


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When I was learning about civil rights in K-12 schools, my takeaway was that Malcolm X was the evil twin of MLK–I know I’m not alone. Malcolm was the guy who got civil rights wrong. The guy who did more harm than good. Well, I was wrong, and so were the influences that steered my thinking as an impressionable student.

Enter education, the sun shining through the clouds, what my friends and I would call “ingonyamas” (fun fact: ingonyama means lion in Zulu) because of the intro song to The Lion King in 1994, which is racist. Bummer, but true. How would you know that? …


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What do pandemics, partisan politics, and protests have in common? They are all results of failure. The failure to prepare. The failure to lead well in crisis. The failure to deliver on a promise to establish justice since 1787, not to mention the hundreds of years of failure before that to love thy neighbor as thyself.

More importantly, they are all learning opportunities. There is a recovery to plan, a future generation to protect, a system to fix, wounds to heal, and wrongs to right. …


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When we watch the news, read the headlines, or have our next COVID conversation, why are we seeing a not-so United States of America? Why aren’t we coming together during this crisis? Why do we feel more frustrated and fed up than hopeful and resilient?

We are witnessing a lesson on leadership and culture, and many political leaders–all around the aisle–are scoring between needs improvement and unsatisfactory on their crisis leadership and culture building report cards.

In early April, Nancy Koehn, a historian and professor at Harvard Business School, explained that leaders today need to provide brutal honesty and credible hope, along with “determination, solidarity, strength, shared purpose, humanity, kindness, and resilience.” In addition to providing historical examples of effective crisis leadership, she challenged leaders to prioritize helping others, to admit mistakes and learn on the fly, and to be responsive to people’s energy and emotions. I agree with her that we are seeing some “masterclasses” in crisis leadership across the nation, but we also need some genuine self-reflection, particularly from those with the most influence. …


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Photo courtesy of Cardigan Mountain School

The recent Pew Research Center poll found that 68% of Americans are concerned that state governments will lift coronavirus-related restrictions too quickly, while only 31% are concerned that states will not lift restrictions quickly enough–yet the popular media narrative depicts a divided country ready to erupt. To argue that this is not a trying time would be insensitive, but is it unreasonable to expect Americans to face this challenge, and to overcome it–together?

The world is watching, people.

I have always been a believer in the power of tight communities. As Mother Teresa said, “Love begins by taking care of the closest ones.” If everyone looked after those around them, life wouldn’t get worse. I’m sure of it. …

About

Nicholas Fair Nowak

Nick is a school/camp administrator, teacher, coach, and the founder of GoodMenders LLC: building better culture for educational equity.

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