October 14, 2017

Good leaders manage employees effectively; great leaders develop people and help them realize their potential.

The ability to see someone for their human wholeness – their mistakes to be corrected and forgiven, their strengths and abilities, their personal and/or professional challenges, and ultimately, their potential for success – means we can foster greatness in an employee, a citizen, a business and our communities.

This perspective applies to any relationship in any organization. Consider these examples from the most extreme of circumstances – our nation’s prisons and corrections systems.

  • Cook County (Chicago) Sheriff Tom Dart is running his jail more like a mental hospital, treating his low-income, mentally ill, petty crime inmates like patients. He’s built mental and medical treatment programs for his wards, and has advisors that work toward recovery, release and productive citizenship. He sees his job as not just keeping people in jail, but rather helping many of them get out and stay out. Instead of hiring someone from law enforcement, he hired psychiatrist Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia to be the warden. She delivers the tough love necessary to get even maximum-security inmates to cooperate. Jones Tapia says “We understand the person is a person.  They’re not.…their charge, they’re not their crime. And so we want to give that individual attention to as many people as we can.” Cook County Jail provides cooking classes, chess lessons, photography courses and music therapy among others, all of which teach life skills, strategy, and new perspectives.
  • In Virginia, the Richmond City Justice Center’s REAL program is providing group housing for program participants who are recently-released inmates. Richmond Sheriff Office Internal Program Director Sarah Scarborough explains that housing is a crucial piece to rebuilding and yet it’s one of the hardest things to obtain. Providing new releases with housing means they have a safe place to sleep, bathe and keep their belongings – which leads to a greater likelihood of meaningful employment. Scarborough also runs programs inside the jail which help offenders apply what they’ve learned from their crimes to legitimate, legal, and desirable business behaviors.
  • Media outlet Upworthy recently featured Café Momentum in Dallas for the opportunity it is providing to juvenile offenders. Chef Chad Houser, who was once co-owner of the popular Parigi Restaurant, switched gears after volunteering to teach cooking classes to residents in the local juvenile offender facility. At the same time that he recognized there was some natural talent among his students, he realized that without a better path to choose, most would end up returning to jail as adults. Houser’s Café Momentum is not only a favorite among foodies, it also a training facility for juvenile offenders and is entirely staffed – from service staff to cooks – by former juvenile offenders. His effort has reduced their repeat offender rate to 15%.

Each of these stories is about treating all humans with empathy and respect, and helping to foster the confidence they need to succeed. Whether it is in our businesses, our nonprofits or our jails, the majority of people want to do well and will succeed with support and encouragement. It is our job as leaders to find ways to unearth their potential and to hold them accountable to being their best selves.