Leadership

Building a House for Diversity in St. Louis

This article appeared in the St. Louis American on January 12, 2019.

A few years ago, I read the book, “Building a House for Diversity” by R. Roosevelt Thomas Jr., a renowned Harvard professor and diversity scholar. Thomas begins the book with a fable about a giraffe who wants to befriend an elephant.

The giraffe invites the elephant into his house. After some quick carpentry to enlarge the basement door in order to be able to admit the elephant, the giraffe goes off to answer a phone call, asking the elephant, “Please make yourself at home.” But every time the elephant moves, there is a large scrunch or crashing sound. When the giraffe returns, he is amazed at the damage the elephant has done.

There were three takeaways from this story about the interaction between the giraffe (the insider) and the elephant (the outsider). First is the silliness of expecting an elephant to assume the same dimensions as a giraffe.

A second lesson is that organizations should expect a certain amount of tension and complexity when attempting to build a house of diversity. Diverse candidates in our organization are often asked to conform to daily regiments and traditions without consideration that it is their distinct differences that make them so valuable to the organization in the first place. 

The third take away is that organizations ought to measure successes in diversity and inclusiveness not by attempts or the grandness of the plans, but tangible results. Diversity comes to fruition through the willingness and active participation of supervisors, managers, employees at all levels and the willingness of the organization to change itself by being totally inclusive.

This is what we know: Organizations with more women and diverse representation statistically outperform their peers; inclusive teams out perform their peers by 80 percent; gender-diverse organizations are more likely to outperform their peers; and organizations that hire demographically diverse candidates have a greater chance to be around into the future.

The elephant and the giraffe represent the value of equitable collaboration, the combination of individuals who are different in some ways and similar in others. The elephant represents people who are not familiar to us, speak with an accent, have different sexual orientation, individuals who didn’t go to high school in St. Louis.

They are younger or older. Their education credentials and professional experiences are from faraway places. They graduated from college elsewhere. They hold personal and political views that differ from those of their work colleagues. But one thing they bring to the organization is undeniable: a high level of intellectual contribution and the capacity to make meaningful contributions that will ultimately be measured by dollars and cents and increased relevance of the organization.

Harvard Business Review article from summer of 2016 addressed "why diversity programs fail." The findings were that training helps and will continue to be a piece of the quest to ensure diversity. However, to truly break down the unconscious biases, we need to have relationships with people different than ourselves. 

Even more recent research from Price Waterhouse Coopers found that 87 percent of global companies identify diversity and inclusion as a top strategic priority. It also stated that facts and data don't necessarily change minds. The research suggests continual exposure to difference, novel experiences such as cross-cultural or reverse mentoring, and creating safe places to discuss traditionally challenging or polarizing topics are places to start. 

I believe that the biggest threat to any diversity effort is not external but internal. It is the threat that comes from organizations that choose to surround themselves with people who think alike. This results in isolation and insulation. Diversity gives us an opportunity to create an environment that allows all employees to contribute and perform at peak levels of effectiveness.

My challenge to the elephants and the giraffes of St. Louis is we must measure our successes, and sustained results will come only through the willingness and active engagement of supervisors, managers and employees at all levels and – most importantly – the leaders of the organization.

In the recent installment of “Star Wars,” one of my takeaways was the statement from the wife of Yoda’s dad – we need to do and to stop trying.

St. Louis: It’s time to stop trying and focus our collective efforts on doing.

Benjamin Ola Akande, an economist, is senior advisor to the chancellor of Washington University and director of its Africa Initiative.

Time to Resuscitate St. Louis

The following is the full text of the keynote speech delivered by Benjamin Ola. Akande at the Royal Vagabond’s Seventh Annual Leadership Awards.

I am honored to speak at the Royal Vagabond’s annual luncheon. And, as I look around the room, I see quite a number of regional leaders, leaders who have the wisdom, the talent and the power to challenge the paradigm that is our region. Leaders who I hope share my belief that St. Louis can and should be one of the great 21st century cities of America, that we can regain the status we held in 1904, and the momentum we experienced in the 1960’s when the gateway arch was completed. That we can be better tomorrow than we are today.

So, let me ask you some straight forward questions...

Do you hear flawed thinking and let it go, or do you take it upon yourself to change minds and attitudes? Do you challenge assumptions, seek to build consensus, and make it your mission to lead from where you are? Are you working every day to find better ways to strengthen our community?

We live in a time where common sense and reality don’t seem to get the respect they once garnered. A recent editorial in the London Times expressed this perfectly. Written as an obituary. It reads as follows:

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, first name common, last name sense, who has been with us for many years, and will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:

  • knowing when to come in out of the rain;
  • why the early bird gets the worm;
  • that life isn’t always fair;
  • and maybe, just maybe, it was my fault.
  • those who bring light into the life of others cannot keep it from themselves
  • always make sure you are fighting the battle in front of you, and not the one behind you.

Common sense lived by simple, sound financial mantra, such as don’t spend more than you can earn, and adhere to the tried and true, that adults not children are in charge.

The health of common sense began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student.

Common sense finally gave up the will to live after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common sense was preceded in death:

  • by his parents, truth and trust,
  • his uncle, integrity
  • his wife, discretion,
  • his daughter, responsibility,
  • and his only son, reason.

Not many people attended his funeral, because so few realized he was gone.

I believe that most, if not all of you here today would agree that common sense, if indeed not dead, at least is on life support.

The examples are almost too many to list. At the national level, we decry the problems that are destroying lives, then turn around and not allocate funding for programs designed to fix them. We agree that people with mental health issues should not be able to purchase firearms, but we cannot agree on steps to prevent them from buying guns.

We have validated research that confirms that early childhood education is so critical to a child’s development, but have failed to provide the resources to ensure that every child has an equal opportunity to grow, develop and learn.

We are reminded daily about the opioid crisis, which has touched every one of us, cutting short the lives of so many young people, many here in St. Louis. This crisis is responsible for 64,000 deaths in 2016. More people died from opioid than the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined. I am worried about the pervasive impact that this epidemic will have on society.

Our public schools are underfunded, even though statistics show that only 31 percent of students in St. Louis public schools are proficient in English, 17 percent in science and only 9 percent in math. We need a common sense response to addressing this gap.

In the city of St. Louis, one in four people live in poverty, including 40 percent of our children. Common sense would say this is a reality that is not sustainable. But are we actively addressing it?

National statistics consistently list St. Louis as the murder capital of the united states with 205 deaths in 2017 and already 27 as of last week. We downplay the reports by arguing that those statistics only reflect the city’s and not regional data. But doesn’t it make more sense to focus on how to put an end to the violence?

But haven’t we ever considered the fact that those crime statistics, along with the negative image of our region almost four years after the Ferguson unrest, may be costing us jobs and future opportunities for growth.

St. Louis is no longer a destination for large companies looking to expand. And those already here too often find themselves on the flipside of mergers and acquisitions.

We like to say that St. Louis is a great place to live, an ideal place to raise a family, a big city with excellent cultural attractions, wonderful parks, manageable traffic and Midwestern values. I would agree that all of that is true. But that mindset also suggests that we are married to the status quo. We like what we are, and we don’t care to address what could make us even better.

Someone once wrote, “life is like a taxi. The meter just keeps a-ticking whether you are getting somewhere or standing still.” St. Louis is standing still even though it may look like we are moving forward.

Nowhere is our love of the status quo more apparent than in the ongoing debate over our city government fragmentation. The data is revealing.

Between St. Louis city and county and our 90 municipalities, we spend $281 million dollars a year on general government administration. That’s $7,600 per year for each family of four.

By comparison, the Louisville metro area, which has 83 municipalities and a fully integrated regional government, spends $132 million dollars less. We cannot grow and prosper in the 21st century with an 18th century governance structure.

That’s just one example. But imagine what we could do with that $132 million. Hire more police? Fix our schools? Help train people to lift them out of poverty and build a state with the best mass transit system?

Instead, we cling to the status quo and ignore facts in favor of keeping things the way they are. Isn’t it time to focus on how much greater we can be?

I know that change can be scary, and in fact the only person that likes change is a wet baby. But failure to change in the face of so many challenges is simply irresponsible.

We owe it to ourselves, our children, and their children to make St. Louis a better place to live for all. Even if it means ending the status quo.

So, what can we do? What must we do?

The Royal Vagabonds have always been an organization that is not afraid to ask tough questions. Working as leaders in the community, they have pursued new and better ways to improve the lives of those in need. What we need is a vision — that our best days are ahead of us and not behind us. We need to recognize that what we have been doing isn’t sufficient to keep irrelevancy at bay, and we need a commitment to make bold changes that put us back on the path to long-term success.

I believe St. Louis needs a new kind of commitment today more than ever.

As a first step, I suggest that it’s time we dare to step out of our current reality and take the stairs up to the balcony. A place where we can get an over-arching view of what’s wrong with St. Louis and then determine how to make it right. It’s also a time to convene to identify the problem, come together as a community to figure out what it will take to resolve it and then act within a defined timeline.

In their fine book “Leadership on the Line,” Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky offer a practical and wise exercise for people and organizations in the midst of serious challenges.

Anyone who has been to the theater and sat in the balcony knows that you get a very unique vantage point on what is happening on stage. You are able to see things from all angles. You see it better. You get greater clarity when we view our circumstances from above the fray.

The trip to the balcony is an opportunity for all of us to take a critical look at ourselves, to reassess what we see and hear, and to re-inject common sense into our daily lives. And specifically, to take a good look at the direction in which St. Louis is going and change direction.

It begs the questions: what do you most admire about the St. Louis region? What strengths can we build upon? What are the things we need to fix – the thing we must stop doing? What needs to be changed? What will we allow to endure?

One hundred fourteen years ago, St. Louis was the most important city on the planet when in 1904 we hosted the Olympics and the World’s Fair simultaneously. People from all over the world came and admired our parks, our graceful architecture, our picturesque riverfront. Those things are all still here.

Yet some would argue that St. Louis’ past is much greater than our present. Are we to accept that the apex of this great city was more than a century ago? That all that is ahead is more disappointment and hand-wringing over what might have been?

When Amazon doesn’t deem us worthy of their consideration, (we didn’t make their top 20 cities for consideration), we chose to pat ourselves on the back for putting together what was described as a strong proposal, while others maintained that Amazon isn’t the future for every city. Amazon is looking for a stable and business-friendly environment, an urban or suburban location with a record of attracting and retaining strong technical skills and communities that think and act boldly.

Our problem is integration, separation and fracturism — it’s killing us. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that most of the shadows in our lives are caused when we stand in front of our own sunshine. St. Louis, it’s time to get out of our own way.

When we see many of our major corporations being acquired by out-of-town corporate interests, rather than the other way around, do we shrug our shoulders and say it’s a sign of the times?

We need common sense strategy that’s bold, that harnesses our competitive advantage to create what doesn’t exist. It cannot be a strategy based on hope. What we need is a strategy based on best practices.

We need to create the kind of economic environment whereby we are the ones doing the acquiring and bringing more resources to St. Louis, rather than shipping them out. Let’s stop waiting for the future. It’s time we build it.

When our elected state officials in Jefferson City propose to cut taxes and follow the failed lead of states like Kansas and Oklahoma, where is the outcry on behalf of those who desperately need basic services that will likely get cut, and the mixed signals we send to businesses here and those who are looking for a new location? Do we respond with our voices and our votes?

A few years ago, I had the honor of introducing noted historian Tracey Campbell at a talk here in St. Louis on the history of the Gateway Arch. The book is entitled “The Gateway Arch,” and if you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so. As you know, this coming summer we will celebrate the opening of the new museum under the Arch, marking the end of the renovation of the memorial on the riverfront.

This was a team event that brought together corporate, government, foundation and individual interest. Along the way, we created jobs and injected millions of dollars into this community.

But how many of us know the history that underlies our national monument? We seldom ask, what was there before the arch? Who benefited from its construction? Who lost? What could have been? These are questions we must ask ourselves as we seek to transform and strengthen St. Louis for the future.

The story of the Gateway Arch is much more complicated than the account provided to visitors. It involves political and economic power, short-sighted city planning, and decades of disputes.

It’s true, the Arch transformed our city and gave the nation a timeless landmark. But it also displaced hundreds of people and businesses and created an island that separated the city from the river for more than half a century, and as an example of urban planning, one could argue that, for all its merits as a tourist draw, the Arch and the surrounding grounds enhance the prestige of St. Louis or bring significant economic gains to our city.

This Gateway Arch does not stand alone as an attraction to our city. What are we doing to make St. Louis a safe place to live and visit? What was arguably the city’s greatest asset, its location along the mighty Mississippi River, is something we seem to have overlooked. Just over a century ago, St. Louis considered itself the potential equal of New York City and the site of a relocated American capital.

The city’s population today is half of what it was when the idea of the arch was first conceived. Ferguson has become a national catchword for what is wrong with St. Louis. We take pride in proclaiming what a great place St. Louis is to raise a family; yet that message does not seem to resonate with those looking in from outside who see a rising homicide rate, a city without a mass transit system, and a divided place politically. Common sense must prevail here.

Richard Florida, author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,” writes that the leading innovative and creative cities have three T’s in common – technology, talent and tolerance.

Richard affirms that the three T’s explain why cities such as Baltimore, St. Louis and Pittsburgh fail to grow economically despite their deep reservoirs of technology and world-class universities. He contends that perhaps the problem is that they are unwilling to be sufficiently tolerant even though they are open to attract and retain top creative talent.

We’ve spent several hundred million dollars to revive our landmark; the view from the balcony suggests that money is likely to do little to address what really ails our community and to resolve the lack of tolerance for what Richard Florida speaks. We have to own up to the fact that many outsiders see us as a city on the decline, and they are not willing to invest millions of dollars in such a place. It’s time we change this narrative and inform America of what we have to offer.

The reversal of perception must begin by taking a common-sense approach to prioritizing our goals, boldly addressing the challenges we face, and demonstrating the courage to change directions.

So, where is the vision to make St. Louis a truly great 21st century city? Where is the commitment to aggressively deal with the far-reaching recommendations of Forward Through Ferguson or For the Sake of All? Who will provide the courage to challenge our fragmented city structures, which eat up valuable resources and duplicate services?

I believe more than ever that St. Louis is ready for leadership who is willing to set things right, to get out of their comfort zones, to confront the paradigm, challenge assumptions, build consensus and find a better way for our community. We need our leaders to offer a vision that our best days are ahead and not behind us. Leaders who recognize that all of us cannot succeed when some of us are ignored or left behind. I’m talking about leaders who refuse to look forward to the past, and are not in love with status quo, folks afraid of the dark and suspicious of the light.

Whatever we have been doing isn’t working. It’s time to question everything; it’s time to rethink our current strategy.

But the kind of leaders St. Louis needs are not necessarily at the top. We need people like you who can be the strongest single force for transformation. Folks who are not content with things as they are, but willing to do what is necessary to challenge the status quo and its very large constituency. I’m talking individuals willing to lead from where they are.

My friends, I’m appealing to you to become – in the words of Bill Drayton – change makers: Citizens who can identify the problems in any situation, figure out ways to solve problems, lead collective action, and not only advocate for change, but become the personification of change itself.

Beyond Housing, under the leadership of Chris Krehmeyer, exists to eliminate the consequences of poverty by creating strong communities that support healthy families and children. As a comprehensive and nationally recognized community development organization, they bring civic leaders, targeted non-profits, corporate partners and residents together to help 24 communities, which surround the Normandy School District, to become better places to live. They have done it by providing support and resources in the areas of education, housing, health, employment, readiness, access, economic development and personal finance.

Since 2011, Beyond Housing has invested over $100 million in housing and economic development, health programs, support of the Normandy schools collaborative and other programs in the nationally recognized 24:1 initiative.

While much has been accomplished, we have much more to do.

My friends, I’m asking that we all take that journey to the balcony, and when we get there, to take a good long look at our communities — but we can’t stay up there. We must come down and get involved. Be the change we need. Together, we will succeed in resuscitating that dying old man in St. Louis — common sense. But the window of opportunity is closing my friends.

Great cities are not created overnight. They are the product of longstanding political, economic and cultural forces walking step by step together. In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take, the bold bets we left on the table, and the decisions we waited too long to make.

Someone once said that common sense is a flower that doesn’t grow in everyone’s garden. I affirm that we must make our garden in St. Louis fertile ground for common sense to thrive, so that one day, in the not too distant future, when we convene once again at the annual Vagabond luncheon, we will take stock and share the stories of how the new St. Louis was built — how we were courageous enough to go to the balcony and from that unique vantage position, we saw a future that was much better than our present. And then we came down and went to work to make it a reality.

So, allow me to share with you a glimpse of what St. Louis should look like come 2025. Our city will become a national leader in four sectors — human health, plant science, technology and financial technology.

Human health in 2025: Washington University and BJC as the anchors to Cortex will become the leading recipients of NIH grants in the country, displacing Boston, Texas and California as the leaders in human health research and application.

Plant science: The Danforth Plant Science Center will have over a half-billion-dollar endowment. 500 scientists and 200 plant science companies from around the globe at 39 North. Leading the way in providing food security (a safe and abundant food supply) to the 9 billion humans on the planet. Leading the second green revolution.

National security: The new NGA facility in St. Louis opens in 2023, creating a boomerang effect because of the efforts through USGIF -United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation. The St. Louis region will begin the journey of becoming the second-most important national security hub beside Washington, D.C.

Technology: Because of a unified effort at tech skills education, St. Louis is no longer a fly-over technology center. It hosts the broadest array of technical education opportunities in the Midwest. The product of the higher education institutional collaboration in St. Louis. There is a cluster of 400 startup companies (twice the current number).

Financial technology: as a major financial center, the community grows to be the center of excellence on cybersecurity for individuals. This technology will be deployed through Mastercard paired by other financial institutions Edward Jones, Stifel, Commerce, Enterprise Bank, Wells Fargo and others into the banking and personal investment industry.

In 2025, new companies start here. Established companies grow here. Great companies stay here! Why? We are no longer the Gateway to the West, we are the Gateway to the Future.

I end with one question — what role will you play in building this future?

MLK - A Legacy of Leading Without Authority

The reason why we lead without authority is because there’s a scarcity of leadership from people with authority.  People who try to exercise leadership without authority are often perceived as deviants and troublemakers.  The fact that they are trying to gain something that they do not have is the issue.  When people take on informal authority it is because they do not see leadership being executed.  This is leading without authority.

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            The life of Martin Luther King is a testament to the virtue of leading without authority.  King challenged the status quo and sought to paint a vision of the future in broad yet defining strokes.  He championed unity as a means to an end where all Americans are bound not by race or economic status but by the inherent values as individuals.  But to achieve his dream the only option available to him was to lead without authority.

            Because he did not have a defined constituency and that he lacked the authenticity of an elected official he used a multiplicity of venues to reach a greater audience across America.  The battle was fought on the streets of Alabama, nonviolent protests, in the court System, in the bus terminals and in small town diners.

            Martin Luther King, Jr. did not allow the fact that he had no formal authority to keep him from leading.  He successfully exercised leadership from the root of the table, from outside the formal organization and left a legacy on the virtue of leadership.  The reason why Martin was able to lead successfully was because he had in place a wide network of informal authority in the community at large and he used this informal authority to recruit and excite people about the possibility of a better future. 

            Leaders gain informal authority when they have the respect of a diverse audience with a compelling urgency to bring forth change.  It happens best when people believe in the leader, trust his judgment and the leader uses the moral persuasion needed to convince people to want to be led.  At a minimum, Martin’s sense of constructive impatience was a strong motivation to the many Blacks of his day who saw a courageous man with the audacity to challenge the establishment.   

            People who lead without authority know how to seize the moment, focus attention on the issue.  They do not seek permission but have a sense of purpose.  Martin Luther King was not an elected politician; he did not have a formal constituency; but demonstrated a compelling urgency to challenge the system.

            This begs the question – Why do people lead without authority?  First, they lead without authority when there’s an absence of authority…when there’s an absence of leadership…and so when the people that are supposed to be leading fail, it is Mavericks like Martin who move to fill the vacuum of leadership. 

            I have found key lessons from the life of Martin Luther King that is applicable to the challenges that we all face at our various organizations.  Martin was an inspiration to all of us because he showed us how to lead from where we are.  He showed us that leadership is best exercised when there is a cause.  Martin showed us how to transform society.

            But, the problem about leading without authority is that it is a dangerous expedition, because it often over-simplifies the complexity of the situation and underestimates the reaction that will come from the establishment.  When you lead without authority, the real authority is unwilling to sit idly by and watch things unfold.  For those with the courage to lead, it is a noble calling that may bring unanticipated consequences. 

            MLK was assassinated in the midst of his leadership journey.  His life was cut short in the prime of his life and his effort to transform a divided nation.  Yet he was successful in translating an ideal to a cause and ultimately into results.  Even in his absence the dream unfolded over time. 

            The ability to lead without authority is present even among us today.  You see it occurring with people that believe passionately in what they are doing and are not deterred by cynicism and fear.  We need more people that are willing to take a stand for what is noble and what is right, individuals who are not content with things as they are and are eager to make things better.

            I believe everybody ultimately gets the opportunity to lead without authority.  It is that defining moment in our lives when we are asked to step up to the plate and say “I’m going to stand for what is right when principle is more than a word, when we develop the capacity to see around corners.  Martin recognized that the future belongs to those who can see it. His I Have A Dream conversation with America gave us a blueprint on leading and assures us all that it is within us 

            As we celebrate the life and contributions of Martin Luther King Jr. I urge you to remember that he taught us not to be afraid to lead from where we are.  He showed us that status quo is not an acceptable option.  He challenged us to look beyond our present and to create a future that is greater, better and more fulfilling.  Martin showed us that we all have moral authority and to lead without authority. 

Benjamin Ola. Akande, Ph.D. President BOA Consulting, St. Louis, Missouri

Connect the Dots: Our Untapped Opportunity

As the region’s leaders scramble to put the finishing touches on our proposal to lure Amazon’s second headquarters with its promised 50,000 jobs to St. Louis, one wonders if what we plan to offer mirrors what every other metro area will propose: corporate tax rebates, ready infrastructure and plenty of other concessions. Yet we could truly set our region apart by embracing one of the strongest competitive advantages available today – diversity and inclusiveness.

Researchers have found that uniting people with different ideas and perspectives can boost creativity and enable institutions to transform themselves, while accelerating change and progress. Ronald Burt, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, suggests that organizations with more diverse sources of information consistently generate better ideas. Sara Ellison of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has shown that mixed-gender and mixed-race teams produce more creative solutions than less diverse teams. Even internal surveys at Google have found that diverse teams often innovate the most.

Diversity brings different experiences, questions prevailing assumptions and leads to new approaches to resolving long-standing challenges. Such a proven strategy would appeal to a global company like Amazon, whose own website calls it “a company of builders who bring varying backgrounds, ideas and points of view to decisions and inventing on behalf of our customers.” More important, diversity could catalyze our local businesses and corporations to realize greater future growth and success.

What will it take for businesses to pursue diversity and inclusiveness with the same vigor and commitment they chase market share and profit? Simply put, we need to acknowledge diversity as a business imperative and a financially responsible move. We need to recognize a return on diversity, or ROD, equivalent to the infamous bottom-line ROI – return on investment.

In practice, because of the difficulty of attributing increased performance directly to diversity, we focus on qualitative measures like employee engagement, feedback from customers, well-rounded decision-making, improved communication and greater transparency – all, admittedly, vital to achieving a high-performing culture and profitability.

ROD involves not just achieving equal ratios of minorities to nonminorities or women to men. Rather, it seeks to achieve balance through the richness of blended elements – culture, experience, age, perspective, gender and race – to ensure an organization can move from success to significance.

At the same time, diversity without inclusiveness has no meaning. Inclusiveness means being part of the delivery and execution of an organization’s mission. Organizations may recruit the best, most accomplished minds, but those hires cannot merely serve as showcases for the organization. We must encourage the fresh voices and broader thinking they bring – quite simply, a move that makes dollars and sense.

To achieve the long-term success we seek in this region, we need the kind of creativity, persistence and commitment that only a truly diverse community can provide. That achievement needs to start with the companies already in St. Louis. Making diversity and inclusiveness a corporate imperative will make our region attractive and competitive.

Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande is the president of BOA Consulting and former president of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. He has a Ph.D. in economics and previously served as dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology at Webster University.

10 STEPS for climbing to greater heights

Date: January 9, 2005
Publication: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Section: Business
Edition: Five Star Lift
Page: F07

Jim Collins, in the best-selling book "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don't," tells a story about Darwin Smith, a little-known leader of a well-known company, Kimberly-Clark. For a century, Kimberly-Clark languished in mediocrity with most of its business in traditional paper mills. Then, a mild-mannered gentleman took the reins and realized that the company's best shot at greatness was in paper-based consumer goods, a sector in which it had a side business called Kleenex. Like the general who burned the boats upon landing, leaving no retreat for his soldiers, Smith sold the traditional mills and threw proceeds into the consumer business. Today, it's No. 1 worldwide in paper-based consumer products. Of course, there was no guarantee that Kimberly-Clark would succeed in the consumer business, but the demonstration of action amid uncertainty is the lesson. There are no guarantees in anything we do. But the lack of a guarantee is the urge we need to go from where we are to where we want to be. As we begin 2005, these are 10 ways to reach the next level:

1. SET NEW GOALS Focus your efforts on quantum-leap innovations and ideas, which go beyond incremental improvements. What you've done in the past is good, but what are you going to do in the future? The goals you set should require that you stretch your professional acumen and contribution to your organization.

2. FIND THE URGENCY FOR ACTION This demands a recommitment to excellence that would enhance the organization's market position and profitability.

3. SEEK NEW CHALLENGES Dedicate yourself to seek challenges even if the odds of success are less than 20 percent. This year should be your opportunity to set and achieve goals that aren't within easy reach.

4. BELIEVE IN YOUR GOALS Instead of second-guessing yourself, embrace the notion that the right decision is the one you believe in. Recognize that success is up to you.

5. DON'T ALLOW MEMORIES T* BE GREATER THAN DREAMS You've failed in the past. So what? This year, focus on purpose and not on avoiding failure. A road without potholes is a road not worthy of the journey.

6. LEAD FROM WHERE YOU ARE Dedicate yourself to become a contributor to your organization by taking responsibility for its success. You might not have the title or position of a leader, but leadership can be exercised at any level if you're invested in the work.

7. STRIVE T* OVERCOME INTERNAL THREATS The greatest threat to your success isn't necessarily the competition. The biggest challenge can be internal. It's the willingness to tolerate a commitment level to remain at room temperature.

8. RECOMMIT YOURSELF T* BECOME RESULT-BASED You can't continue to do the same thing and hope for better results. The new year should be the point of departure when you set aside the practice of playing it safe and doing just enough to get by.

9. REDISCOVER YOUR PASSION Find a way to apply the same passion and sense of conviction to your job that you have for your favorite hobby.

10. BE JOLLY Keep a sense of humor. Laugh, smile and develop a wrinkle on your face as a result of habitual laughter. And for those of you who had your share of failures last year, I leave you with this advice: We learn more from our failures than from our successes. Failure is the call for action, resurgence and tenacity. Those of us old enough to reconcile the prejudice of experience with the enthusiasm of youth can take a risk-informed approach to breaking the shackles of failure-induced fear and strengthening the conditions for self-esteem. We get up, dust ourselves off and go back into the game.