Tag Archives: leadership

F3- Fitness, Fellowship, Faith

SEABROOK SAYS: Steven Long, the co-leader of Gastonia Sheet Metal, tells about his high level of commitment to F3.  F3, a national organization, was founded in Charlotte.  The organization is dedicated to grow young male county leadership in unique ways.  Gaston County desperately needs young leaders to emerge to lead us now and into the future. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?


Six days each week, usually in the gloom of 5:30 am or 7:00 am, men gather at different locations throughout Gaston County for a 45 – 60 minute workout. The number of attendees at any given workout can vary from 3 – 35+.  The rules for these ‘Boot Camp’ style workouts are very simple and are as follows, they are open to all men, are held outside regardless of weather conditions, are free, are led by the attendees in a rotating fashion and each workout ends with a Circle of Trust.

The F3 movement began on New Year’s Day 2011 in Charlotte, NC. The mission of the group isn’t to get men in better shape, it’s “to plant, grow and serve small workout groups for the invigoration of male community leadership.”  You can find this exact wording on the website, www.F3Nation.com.

Something happens on the road to better leadership the F3 way with regular attendance at workouts. Regular attendees get in better shape.  It is impossible to attend multiple workouts each week and not see your fitness level improve.  Regular attendees meet other men with similar goals and thoughts on life, family, faith, etc.  This fellowship is ultimately what brings the men back week after week.  New friendships are formed from this fellowship and interaction leads to more opportunities to serve each other and the community.  Regular attendees become a part of a group that supports each other, motivates and holds each other accountable, and pushes each other to be better.

For me personally, the F3 story started in March, 2015 when a good friend from Church invited me to the first few workouts. Initially, there was one weekly workout held on Saturday mornings with the group meeting in the parking lot at the Schiele Museum.  When I finally got out for that first Saturday, I was blown away by what I experienced.  First, there were 18 – 20 persons in attendance including several that I personally knew.  There were guys from other F3 Regions there to lead the first few weeks of workouts until the Gastonia group was ready to lead on its own.  I had the same thoughts that most have at the first workout, “I’m not in good enough shape”.  What I found was a group of men working to be better regardless of fitness level.  I witnessed all ranges of fitness level that first day including guys who could have done that workout in half the time and then ran a marathon right after to guys who were struggling to keep up after the first 10 minutes.  It was terrific. I found myself to be somewhere in the middle of the pack that day for most of the workout and that is where I continue to be.  The guys in front did all they could to help the guys in back and that’s what struck me mostly at that first workout.  Since then, I have posted over 130 times, led 15 – 20 workouts and helped launch a workout in Lincolnton.  I have become close friends with men I would have never met otherwise and had these same men check on me after missing a few workouts.  I have found it to improve my daily outlook and health.

From that first workout in March, 2015 to now, we have grown to 13 different workouts throughout the week at 8 different locations and are looking to add more. We have multiple workouts scheduled each week in Cramerton, Gastonia and Dallas with the newest location on Saturday mornings in Belmont.  This link shows the exact locations and times, http://f3nation.com/schedules/gastonia-nc/ . Please come out and see what it’s about.  I can almost assure you won’t regret it…….at least not after getting a few workouts behind you.  Aye!!


Steven Long (F3 Stroganoff)
President, Residential Divisions
Gastonia Sheet Metal

P.S. – At the end of your first workout, you’ll be given your F3 nickname…so think hard before answering those questions.

Snap, Crackle and Pop

SEABROOK SAYS: Carolyn Niemeyer gives every day to the Gaston community! Very few citizens will ever know how much she does. The back pack program she brings is incredibly successful.  Read her article and ask yourself’ “Can I help kids get food for the weekends?”  More readers need to step forward and help. How about you?  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

How many of us have heard this phrase on TV and associated it with popular cereal?  Likely, many of us could just go to the kitchen in our homes and find cereal to eat.  What about the students in Gaston County who would not have had that opportunity if not for the BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc.?  The food bags received on Fridays have meant the difference between being hungry over the weekend and having meals to eat.  The students are so anxious to get the weekend food they start asking their teachers on Friday morning, “Are we getting our food today?”

The Gaston County Schools currently report that 66% of the student population is eligible for free lunch. This is a 10% increase in need from 2011 when the BackPack Weekend Food Program began.

The US Census Bureau reports that 44% of households in Gaston County have yearly income of $35,000 or less. These statistics indicate a need for economic improvement in our area.

The BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc. has grown from providing weekend food for students in 17 schools in the beginning to 43 schools currently.  The program provided almost 300,000 meals to 950+ students this year.  The operation of the program has grown out of the space at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and will start the new school year in a larger warehouse space on Linwood Rd.  It is anticipated that the program will begin with around 1,000 students.  Just imagine how many volunteers this will take to get the food from the truck to the back packs of the students!

The good news is that with so many caring people in the community the task will be accomplished. The number of students in need will increase in the near future and food costs will continue to rise as much as 5 to 7%.  A registered dietician assists the program to provide menus that meet the caloric and nutritional needs of the students K-12 within the budget for the meals.

Many schools and teachers report that the students have hope when they receive the weekend food bags. Hope that someone cares about them weekly, not just one time. Surveys report that there has been an increase in positive behavior and daily work in the classroom because they are not concentrating on their growling stomach.  As a community, it is our mission to encourage these students to stay in school and receive their education.  Without education these students will have difficulty finding jobs that will sustain themselves or their families. Individual failure leads to family failure and community failure.

The BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc. is totally run by volunteers. Local churches and community groups provide funding for about 70% of the students. The remainder of funds come from grants, donations and fundraisers.

For more information about the program, how to make a donation, or volunteer, please visit our web site at http://www.backpackweekendfoodprogram.com.

You always stand taller when you kneel to help a child.”

Carolyn Niemeyer head shot

Carolyn Niemeyer Community Volunteer




SEABROOK SAYS: Tony Sigmon is the leader of the Gaston County Family YMCA which has five operational facilities.  When the Y’s $18 million new facility is ready, Gaston County may well have the best in America. Tony writes on HOPE.  Read on and commit to give it your thought time. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

When my friend Bill Seabrook asked if I would write an article for “Digging Deeper,” it immediately hit me what I wanted to cover.   In a time like this, in a place like this, we all need a good healthy dose of Hope in our lives. For several years I have been pondering the question, “what is our greatest need?”  Looking around and seeing the unrest locally and abroad, observing the current political climate, seeing young people put off adulthood longer now than ever and seeing yet others have to jump into adulthood way too early; all of this brings me to my next question, where is the hope?  Some get so busy with day to day and yet others find ways to escape reality.  There seems to be a huge void of hope in our world.

Last week I had the pleasure of serving my 22nd year at the YMCA’s Blue Ridge Leaders School in Black Mountain, NC.  This “school” is a week long program where 700 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 from YMCAs throughout the South experience a physical education and leadership development training school so that they can become better leaders for their home YMCAs and communities.   Once again I was reminded what “Hope” looks like and through the eyes of a young person.   At the school there are eight 17/18 year olds who serve the school, having been selected the previous year as the “best of the best.”  They are called Honor Leaders.  Two of those Honor Leaders shared a reflection on HOPE.  Instead of listening to me pontificate, here is some of what they had to say.


Hope. A small word, with a large meaning.  It plays a different role in each of our lives and there are many ways to define it.  Hope is looking towards the future with a clear vision.  Hope is acknowledging the uncertainty that is possible in any given situation.  Hope is our motivation to continue persevering through a difficult situation.  Often, hope is the idea we cling to when all our efforts have failed.  That small word, with such an incredible meaning, is essential to having a healthy spirit and mind.  Throughout different experiences in life, we have a persistent twinge of hope that the best outcome will be in our favor.  During these times, where do we find hope? Often we turn to temporary gratifications such as social media, negative attention or bad habits.  But they are just that, temporary and usually unhealthy.  Ultimately, this leaves us unsatisfied and wanting more.  When we find hope in temporary satisfactions, we are restricting ourselves from experiencing the hope that God provides us every day.

Think back to when you were a young child. Can you recall just how simple life was then?  We were surrounded by stories of happily ever afters, courageous heroes and victorious underdogs.  As children we have so much hope around us every day that it’s hard to be anything but positive.  The older we get, the realities of life alter our pure sight of this hope and it becomes more and more blurred.  Although we no longer cling to fictional stories to instill our hope, we have things that we do believe in.  For us and so many more we have the YMCA.  Here we see hope in action.  We see it when the dreams of an underprivileged child come true, when a struggling parent receives the financial assistance she needs to allow her children to attend camp or afterschool so she can work without worrying about them, or when a lonely widower gets time to socialize while they exercise in classes at the Y.  As leaders, it is our responsibility to use the hope we receive every day and spread it to others.  We all of have the potential to be someone’s hero.

When I hear an 18 year old talk like that to a group of 700 teens and 200 adults, I am inspired. It ignites a Hope in me that I want to share with others.  Our local community is right at that “Tipping Point” and there are so many great things that inspirational leaders are doing here in Gaston County.  My closest and favorite example is the New Y at Robinwood Lake.  To be a part of this incredible community lifting project is amazing, but working alongside leaders like Andy Warlick, Gene Matthews, George Henry, Richard Rankin, Steve Huffstetler, May Barger and Frank Craig is beyond a blessing to me.  Seeing so many more people excited to the point that they give the largest gifts that they have ever given to any project is a testament to leadership, inspiration and hope.  It is also a focused energy that creates a best of the best attitude and an excitement that is unparalleled.  My hope is that this is a beginning for Gastonia and Gaston County to see how bringing energy, vision, community and leadership together around a common cause brings great hope and makes dreams come true.  We have great potential to thrive as leaders, as community and as a county.  Now, “go be someone’s hero.”

Tony Sigmon
CEO, Gaston County Family YMCA

photo (13)

The Golden Rule

SEABROOK SAYS:  It’s quite likely that very few in Gaston are aware of the teaching, training and work that go into the job of sheriff.  Here are comments on what works for Sheriff Cloninger.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

I can remember as a child my mother, Mary Jo Cloninger, teaching me the Golden Rule, which is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” She had to use a “hickory switch” to emphasize the value of the Golden Rule on me. But as I have matured, I have come to appreciate these simple words.

Since having the honor to be the Sheriff of Gaston County, I have made the Golden Rule part of our philosophy at the Gaston County Sheriff’s Office. In my interviews with new employees, we discuss the Golden Rule and its value in serving the citizens of our county. I explain that we should treat everyone as we would want our own mother, father, brother or sister treated by any other Sheriff’s Office personnel in the same situation. It is my belief, that if my employees and I will try our best to follow the Golden Rule, then we will better serve the citizens of our county. Hopefully, we will reduce complaints and dissatisfaction with the jobs that we perform for the public.

But just take a moment and think what the effect would be on Gaston County if all of us just tried every day to follow the Golden Rule. Would we not have less conflicts and have a greater respect for one another? Would there not be a significant decrease in crime? Would Gaston County not become the greatest place in the world to live and raise a family?

I hope all of us will try to make Gaston County the envy of the whole world by trying to live everyday by the Golden Rule. We need to encourage all our friends, family and acquaintances to try to live by this rule also!

Alan Cloninger
Sheriff, Gaston County

Ask Yourself

SEABROOK SAYS: Remember all of the good stuff as we all work to solve our problems.

Continuous Improvement

Ask Yourself:  Can Gaston get the big things done?

We have many critical issues that need our attention.  Here are a few:

  • Greater access to Charlotte
  • More jobs that our people can handle
  • Better education so more are qualified for better jobs
  • Attack poverty and keep poverty from draining us dry
  • Some houses of worship consistently make huge contributions, others offer very little engagement beyond trying to take care of their own

Here are good and big things happening now:

  • More than 30 churches and many volunteers are active with the Back Pack food program
  • Community leadership will get better at multiple levels
  • Completing the Loray Mill project
  • Created, built and are operating the Highland School of Technology
  • Decreased teen pregnancy rate more than 30%
  • Became an All American City – twice
  • Unemployment rate dropped to 5% after loosing our textile industry
  • High school graduation rate has become much higher, the dropout rate much lower
  • 19,000 students are now attending Gaston College
  • Greater Gaston Development Corporation is actively helping Gaston County grow and finding jobs

All of us must continuously improve in all that we do!

Are you supportive of the changes needed?

Bill Seabrook
Digging Deeper

When the Stakes are High: The Journey to Rebuild Trust

SEABROOK SAYS:   Doug Luckett has consistently given Gaston County the kind of leadership we need.  Take note and decide today you will follow his leadership model. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

 “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”    C. S. Lewis

Trust is the basis for all good relationships, and for CaroMont Health and the citizens of Gaston County, trust can be the difference between life and death. If that sounds dramatic, I would encourage you to consider the relationship you have with your healthcare provider – the person you trust to make sure that when you are well, you stay well, and when you are sick, you are fixed quickly. In those moments, your health and in some instances your future is in their hands. In healthcare, trust is critical.

The first week I lived in Gaston County, I was eating in a local restaurant and speaking with my waitress. I mentioned I was new to the area and asked about her thoughts on a number of topics – How are the schools? Where can I get the best produce? Do you recommend a good dry cleaner? And then finally, What about the hospital? Her response was, “My parents always told me they would rather die on the way to Charlotte than go there.” Needless to say, all the information I had gleaned about CaroMont’s medical and quality outcomes prior to my arrival was immediately put in check. I think that conversation was the beginning of our understanding that, as the community’s healthcare provider, we must work to regain trust. I wish I could say that was the only time I heard that statement or other versions of it.

A lot has transpired between that day in early January of 2011 and today. After many opportunities to listen to patients and their families, our civic groups and our internal stakeholders, I sense that the community is more at ease when it comes to our Health System. Through approachability and calm discussion, we have changed course on many things we do, even as we have many things left to do to improve your experience with us.

All along the way, I have tried to have a very open discussion about the importance of our health system’s independence and what it means to citizens, retirees, employees, employers and anyone else who may need our services. Independence positions us to maintain the high level of services, convenience, jobs and affordability that our community deserves. But it also means that we are even more accountable because we actually live and work here. We are fortunate to live in a place where we have access to plenty of strong healthcare professionals, and I know that our physicians, clinicians, nurses, technical, support and volunteer staff try so hard to look out for their neighbors’ health and well-being.

Trust is fragile. Old paradigms, ongoing experiences and word-of-mouth are weighty methods of communication in our area, and I understand that many times we don’t get a second chance to make a great first impression. When it comes to your health, you should go where you feel confident you’ll get the best care. So, if we’re not your first choice, I invite you to give us a chance, and find out how we care. Because if “time is tissue,” earning your trust may mean we not only help save life or limb, but also help make your life, and health, even better.

Doug Luckett
President and CEO
CaroMont Health

Leading Officials or Official Leadership?


Gaston folks, here is a fresh approach to community leadership. James is a former member of the staff of our United Way who now resides in Asheville.  What do you think? NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO? 

Time for Growth in Gaston.

Gaston County, we have nine new neighbors. Welcome to the Charlotte Metro Region. I know some of you are making a face and saying, “We’re not Charlotte!” You’re right. The obvious is often true. We are Gaston County, and as Gaston County, we face a question: Does Gaston County have what it takes to be the benchmark for success in the region? I believe so. I believe a real desire for a dynamic, diverse community, with a waiting list for new residents, exists. I know might be overly optimistic, yet only about the waiting list.

Do we know ourselves? 

Our county is not at all different from most counties that surround a large city. We want to be in the game, but we want our identity intact. As such we’ve talked a good talk. We’ve met a good meeting. We’ve visioned a good vision. But did those efforts prove enough. I sat in those meetings. We talked, met, and visioned together. We made the effort out of care for this place. Informed by the same care, why don’t we ask a timely, tough question: What is it, Gaston County, that holds us up, that holds us back?

Whatever we’ve saved, for last or for later, now needs to come out of the box on the shelf and wow. If we indeed believe, and I think we do, in our worth and wonder, we now must prove it. Anyone considering jobs for Gaston County, investment in Gaston County, relocation of their family to Gaston County will politely listen to our praise of Gaston County. They will then watch what we do, compare Gaston County to the other counties. How well does our county supports our schools, provide infrastructure. Can Gaston County claim effective engagement with neighbors and a sense of connection to the region. What limits access to Gaston County; what sort of transportation plan is in place. Does Gaston County look like a county prepared for growth now and in the future?

Gaston County, do we know the answers to those questions? We need to know our strengths and our weaknesses. Like any community in our place, both can be found. What we do about is our opportunity to set ourselves apart.

 Follow your Leader

Gaston County, for all the talk of a leadership deficit, builds leaders every day. The leadership potential exists within the Economic Development, Human Service, and the Civic sectors. Leaders who can lend expertise and specialized skills, know the way around the issues relevant to our county. Sharing a plan informed by data, experience, and wisdom, they are all in for this effort. This leadership recognizes the benefit possible for all through more and better jobs, an increased tax base, and greater investment. We will find qualities such as competence, compassion, integrity, confidence, flexibility, and honesty informing these leaders. This is Can Do leadership.

If we look at the success of communities such as Greenville, SC; Asheville, NC; and Franklin, TN, the importance of collaborative work between the private sector and the public sector is clear. Our significant, critical work will require collaboration with elected officials, both municipal and county. Officials will navigate difficult, sobering choices; choices best informed by a clear understanding of overarching, complex goals. This calls for leaders sharing the vision, not handing down the vision; leaders beyond the confines of party politics, thinking and acting locally; leaders mitigating conflict with compassion, dignity and respect for all involved; communicating through wisdom, not social media. We require critical thinkers furthering well crafted policy, cognizant of the present and future outcomes. Can we remind ourselves too often that the image problem faced by Gaston County won’t benefit from the antics of ineffective, disengaged, political officials in the guise of leaders. Certainly not. Friends, let’s agree to follow great leaders by electing great leaders. This time. Every time.

James Burgess

The Jobs War and Gaston County

SEABROOK SAYS: Our article writer today served as Superintendent of Gaston County Schools. He is semi-retired now as he continues to give to Gaston County. His subject is one that touches two hot topics: jobs and leadership.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

The Coming Jobs War is a book written by Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup, Incorporated. The book is a result of the findings of the Gallup World Poll which measures the thoughts and feelings of the world’s 7 billion citizens on global issues. The title of the book comes from the key finding of the World Poll. Clifton calls the finding one of the most important discoveries Gallup has ever made. That finding says that whether in Cairo, Berlin, Los Angeles, or Istanbul, the single most dominant thought on people’s minds is having a good job. The Coming Jobs War outlines what Clifton calls “an all-out war for good jobs” and his book examines America’s ability to win this war. The final chapter of the book predicts that for America “failing the coming jobs war will be easy, and winning will be hard.” The book ends, however, with the author noting that “the United States of America is an exceptional country with exceptional people” and “once again, against the odds, she must rise up and win.”

Clifton suggests that a key to winning the jobs war is meeting the challenge on a community by community basis rather than depending on state and federal solutions to create jobs and build a qualified workforce. This common sense approach recognizes the role of individual states and the federal government but puts the bulk of responsibility for winning the jobs war on local leadership. If Jim Clifton is right and local leadership is the key to job creation and building a qualified workforce, how well is Gaston County poised to face this challenge? My answer to this question is that we are in great shape to do our part! There are two primary reasons for my optimism.

First, local leadership in Gaston County recognizes the importance of job creation and workforce development in building a brighter future for our community. Our leaders have accepted this challenge. The Gaston Regional Chamber has established workforce development as a priority area. The GGDC is doing great work in promoting the image of our county. Gaston College has implemented exciting new programs like Apprenticeship 321 to impact workforce development. The local school board has invited the business community to participate in a comprehensive look at district Career and Technical Education programs. Gaston County Schools has partnered with the Gaston Regional Chamber in developing and implementing “Educators in the Workplace” which offers teachers greater insight into jobs and careers in Gaston County. Our Economic Development Commission is exploring new and innovative approaches to bring new businesses to our county and the Workforce Development Board now provides comprehensive job fair opportunities on a monthly basis. Finally, our local NCWorks office has completely revamped its efforts to help job seekers gain tools and experiences needed to find meaningful employment. All of these workforce development partners understand that business as usual will not get Gaston County where it needs to go and they are looking for better ways to meet the jobs challenge.

Second, leadership in Gaston County understands the importance of working together. This spirit of cooperation was clearly evident in Gaston County being named one of the first Work Ready Communities in NC. While other counties have struggled to meet the high standards set for this program, leaders in Gaston County combined efforts to meet and exceed each and every requirement. By working together, elected leaders, business leaders, and workforce development partners gave our community an economic development advantage enjoyed by only six other counties in our state. This spirit of cooperation will serve us well in meeting the job creation and workforce development challenges out ahead.

In closing, I would paraphrase Jim Clifton by saying, Gaston County is an exceptional county made up of exceptional people – and we will do our part in winning the war for jobs!

Reeves McGlohon
Former Superintendent
Gaston County Schools

Let’s Resolve to Be Bold in 2016

SEABROOK SAYS: Some of Gaston’s leaders have reduced their leadership contributions. Some have aged out and, of course, some have died.  New leaders must emerge and you must be a part of that emergence.  Read Ash Smith’s comments and allow them to bring new energy to your community leadership.  Now that you know, what will you do?

There has been a lot of discussion over the last year on leadership in our community. Most of the discussions center on a lack of leadership development opportunities, a lack of political leadership, or a lack of engagement by particular segments of our population such as millennials or minority groups. As I gathered research for this article, I read back through the articles written for Digging Deeper over the last year and a half and it dawned on me how many great leaders our community has already identified.

Beyond the many leaders who have contributed to Digging Deeper, I have had the privilege of working with dozens of amazing leaders in the nonprofit and business communities, who are making a difference by providing services or jobs that our community desperately needs. The Gaston County Jaycees have shown me that our millennials are dedicated to improving Gaston, and I’ve heard tales of the well-organized Junior League’s work on personal development and community service. I have had thoughtful conversations with newly elected political leaders who want to make Gaston County a better place to live, work, and play.

It has become clear to me that our community doesn’t have a problem identifying leaders; we have a problem embracing boldness. I once read that boldness is the translation of values into action. It is difficult to be bold, because when we are bold as leaders it means that we are going against the grain, are trying something new, or are changing the way that things are done. The fear of having others disagree with you and the potential of failure are both strong deterrents that hold organizations and communities back from creating the change necessary to do extraordinary things.

Often times we deter our leaders from taking risks. The results of that deterrence can be devastating to the development of new ideas. When we create an environment that is hostile to change or risk, the really impactful ideas are never proposed, are met with resistance and then dropped, or suffer the worst fate of all in a slow, painful death by committee. That last one is what I have seen all too often in Gaston County. How many of you have heard a bold idea, only to see it get sent to a committee and never resurface, or take a year or longer before any action on the idea occurs?

John Maxwell writes about the “Law of the Big Mo”, or momentum, in his famous The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. He says, “It takes a leader to create momentum. Followers catch it. And managers continue it once it has begun. But creating it requires someone who can motivate others…”

In Gaston County, we need our leaders to be bold and undeterred in their pursuit of big ideas. And as followers we have an obligation to help them maintain the momentum of those ideas once they are proposed. This is not only true of our political leaders, but with anyone proposing something that will create positive change in our community or organizations. There are some good examples of people doing bold things in our community: Jesse Cole and the excitement that he creates around the Grizzlies organization, Kenny Gehrig of Partners Behavioral Health and his committee’s work on developing a coordinated intake system for the homeless, Lisa Marisiddaiah and the work she is doing with the FaithHealth program over at CaroMont Health, and the Gastonia City Council as they pursue the potential of a new ballpark downtown. They, and many others, are working on bold ideas.

So today I challenge You. In 2016, resolve to do at least one bold, new thing that will benefit your organization, company, or the community. Take a risk and be willing to fail. Don’t let others kill your motivation, and motivate others to follow you. Act with boldness, and make 2016 the start of something great.

Ashley Smith works with the USAF on leadership development, continuous improvement programs, and enterprise learning projects.


The Real Deal

SEABROOK DAYS: Darcel Walker says “these relationships are what help bring new leaders to the table.  Relationships build leaders.”  Are you a relationship builder?  Should you be? NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

As someone categorized, simply by date of birth, as a millennial, I cringe at the thought that I may come off as pushy, challenging and one who constantly needs recognition. These are all terms that came to light at the recent Leadership Rising program that was sponsored by the Jaycees and Gaston Together. Instead, I want to be seen for my willingness to make change, my hunger for learning and my enthusiasm and motivation that comes simply from meaningful work. But in a world where millennial employees outnumber all other working generations, it’s interesting that the negative characteristics often outweigh the positive. Rather than using our powers for good, we tend to model the crab effect, pulling others down as we make our way to the top.

According to the Regional Indicator website, as of 2014, millennials made up approximately 22% of Gaston County’s population. This number is approximate, simply because since then, some residents have aged out and some residents have aged in. That means that 55,000 Gaston County residents are millennials. So why do we continue to ask where the leaders are? Where are the other 54,500 people who are classified as a part of this new aged working generation? Rather than attempting to speak for a whole generation of people, let me share my perception of the problem. This is simply the perception of an African American, 20..ish, female who seems to ooze the “not from here” scent.

The simple question that I would ask a future leader is, do you see yourself in the room? Do you see someone who looks like you at the table, making the decisions, playing the games, encouraging everyone to “drill down” to obtain the “low hanging fruit”? In Gaston County, only 38% of people of working age are male. So why, in a county where almost 60% of residents are female, do I not see myself at the table more often? I was once told that the majority of business transactions take place in the parking lot. But why? Why are these conversations taking place on the golf course, in the mens gambling room and in the parking lot? Do we need to hide out in the locker room to get to the table? I attended an all girls high school, so based on those four years of research, alone, I can absolutely answer my own question. Too often, women don’t support other women. Instead of seeing someone that can be a good leader, we tend to see someone who can be a threat. Eyes are rolled, judgements are made and before we can even get to the table, millennials, who grew up seeing Lindsey Lohen and her crew in Mean Girls, are over it.

I came across a quote the other day that stated that, “When women support other women, incredible things happen.” The golf course, the gambling room and the parking lot all have one thing in common — relationships. Men, whether they realize it or not, form relationships. You like golf? Me too! You like fast cars? Me too! Now, the relationships may not start over something so shallow, but those relationships are what get the checks written and the decisions made, quicker than it takes to walk to the car after the official meeting. These relationships are what help bring new leaders to the table. These decisions aren’t decided by who pushed someone else down to get the top, but instead by getting to know each other and understanding that relationships build leaders. Don’t get me wrong, both men and women gravitate to this dog eat dog mentality. And I hate to say it, but oftentimes, the negative characteristics that I mentioned earlier are what distinguish us as millennials. Those who try to be the big fish in a small pond deter the rest of us from pursuing leadership. It took our parents 30+ years to get to retirement and who we step on on the way up won’t help us get there much faster.

In a day in age where it’s not what you know, but who you know, the path to leadership is lined with mentors and lunch dates. Asking where the leaders are without reaching out and getting to know a millennial is like sitting in the boat asking where the fish are… without a fishing pole. If future leaders don’t see themselves in the room, it may take us longer to open the door. Instead of asking where the leaders are in Gaston County, let’s open our eyes. We’re right here! We’re ready and willing to walk through the door. There may not be 10,000 of us, but the 100 of us who are here have our sleeves rolled up, ready to work. Sometimes, we just need the invitation to join the team. Don’t assume that we have too much on our plate. We thrive for this.

Look around the table and see who is missing. Women, are you one few? If so, is that because you may have driven the others away? Start building those relationships, rather than seeing other leaders as stepping stones to the top. Whether or not we are invited, true leaders will find their way to the table, simply because of our passion and need to create positive change. Invite us in, form those relationships. When women support other women, incredible things happen.

Darcel Walker, MA

Program Manager, Gaston Together