Tag Archives: Leadership

Quotes & Quips: Speaking from the Heart

Delivering the keynote address at the annual Mathematics, Engineering, Science, Achievement Awards Dinner at San Jose State University (photo courtesy of SJSU)
Delivering the keynote address at the annual Mathematics, Engineering, Science, Achievement Awards Dinner at San Jose State University
(photo courtesy of SJSU)

“Eloquent speech is not from lip to ear, but rather from heart to heart.”  ~ William Jennings Bryan

From the late 19th century through the early 20th century, William Jennings Bryan was the driving force behind the populist wing of the Democratic Party.  He was the Democrats’ candidate for President of the United States in 1896, 1900, and 1908. Although he lost all three times (that’s something I can relate to), Bryan spoke from the heart and captured the soul of the modern Democratic Party.

Over the last several months, I’ve had the privilege to speak at community gatherings, corporate partnership meetings, San Jose State University, Gavilan Community College, and local high schools.  Each one of these opportunities has been a humbling experience as audiences have inspired me to speak from the heart about my passions: leadership, education, and second chances.

If your organization or event planners are looking for a speaker who inspires audiences with heartfelt, amusing, and compelling stories, check out my speaking services.

I tailor each talk to engage your audience by drawing on stories about life growing up in a working-class neighborhood and sharing insights from over 25-years as a corporate executive, school board president, community leader, and high school and junior college basketball coach.

To learn more about speaking services, click on the following link: https://esereport.com/speaking-engagements/

To schedule me for your next event or conference, send an e-mail to eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net or call 408-426-7698.

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 3 (excerpt #26)

Talking with students during my 2008 campaign for the high school board (campaign photo)
Talking with students during my 2008 campaign for the high school board
(campaign photo)

Blogger’s note: The following passage is the final installment of Chapter 3: “Redemption” from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. ” Summer in the Waiting Room will take a three-week hiatus and resume on Wednesday, July 8th.

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My professional career and political prospects were progressing well in 2008.  I had the privilege of attending the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, as a Comcast executive and witnessed history when Senator Barrack Obama accepted the nomination of his party for president of the United States.  The general election of 2008 would also be the testing ground for my potential run at higher office.  I was an incumbent school board member who had an admirable, if not distinguished, record on the school board running for election to keep the seat to which I had been appointed.

I had secured the endorsement of the teacher’s union, my colleagues on the board, the San Jose Mercury News, and nearly every politician who served residents in San Jose.  I also amassed more campaign funds than the other candidate.  With this profile, winning election seemed to be assured.  There was one problem. My opponent was a former longtime trustee who had name recognition as a school board member.

When the votes were counted on election night, November 4, 2008, Barrack Obama became the first black president in the history of the United States, and I had I lost again.  Over the course of twelve years, I had attempted to win election to public office four times and earned the trust of financial supporters and volunteers, but emerged with no victories.  My political career was in tatters.

That same election, a longtime friend, George Shirakawa, ran for and was elected to the county board of supervisors.  Right after his election, he asked me to consider leaving Comcast to join his team as chief of staff.  We made a great team on the school board and George persuaded me that we could make a big difference working together at Santa Clara County. I would have to take a large pay cut, but I would be home every night and would not have to travel across the nation.

Even though I was dejected by the results of my election, I was looking forward to a new venture helping George assemble his staff and leading a team that could make a positive impact in the community. Also, the day after Election Day, the new president of the school board invited me to breakfast and encouraged me to apply for the appointment of the seat vacated by George as a result of his election to the county board of supervisors.  Demoralized, I couldn’t imagine putting myself through that pain again.  But the pain of failure cut deeper, and after a long talk with Sandra and some personal soul-searching. I accepted the challenge and was reappointed to the board of trustees two months later.

I was busy at the start of 2009 setting up the supervisor’s office and seeking opportunities to be an effective school board trustee.  The pace at the county board of supervisors was slow compared to the hustle of the corporate world, so I added another major project to my plate.  I was part of a group that started a leadership academy to help professional Latinos develop community leadership skills.  It was going to be a busy schedule, but I didn’t have to travel anymore. I would be able to spend time with my family and sleep in my own bed every night.

On the school board, the opportunity to make my mark came immediately. Before I began my second appointed tenure, the board unanimously voted to close a budget shortfall by eliminating after-school sports to the outrage of the community.  The final decision would be made later in the spring when I was back on the board.  I believed deeply in the value of extracurricular athletics as it had been a great experience for me in high school.

Despite vigorous opposition by the teachers union, I supported student-athletes, parents, and the community by hosting town hall meetings, writing an op-ed article in the newspaper, and meeting with my colleagues and other influential people in the community to persuade them to save sports.  In late May 2009, the board voted 4-1 to maintain the after-school sports program. I had the momentum I needed to position myself for a strong election campaign to earn my appointed seat in 2010.

 

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 3 (excerpt #25)

Marisa and Erica get Sen. Hillary Clinton's autograph at a 2008 rally in San Jose. (Sandra & Eddie García family photo)
Marisa and Erica get Sen. Hillary Clinton’s autograph at a 2008 rally in San Jose.
(Sandra & Eddie García family photo)

That same fall, I applied for an appointment to an open seat on the high school board and worked hard to get the votes needed to ensure victory. After three elections losses, I finally became a public policymaker. I shared my story with students in the economically and ethnically diverse district that included my alma mater to inspire and encourage them to work hard, dream, persevere and believe in second chances. I was working around the clock with my dual duties as a Comcast executive and school board trustee.

On one occasion the two duties intertwined when I was on the east coast and airlines were cancelling and delaying flights due to bad weather.  I planned to present a new policy proposal for the school board to discuss that night.  Originally scheduled to take an early morning flight, I was scheduled to arrive in time for the 4:00 PM executive session and 6:00 PM public meeting where I would introduce my proposal.

My flight from Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. to San Jose was canceled and my desperate attempts to secure another flight, even on any other airline, were unsuccessful.  With time running out, I took a taxi from Reagan Airport to Dulles International Airport.  During the 35-minute drive, I frantically called airlines in search of a flight that would get me home in time for the vote.  Finally, at Dulles, I was able to secure the last seat on a flight that was scheduled to connect in Las Vegas for the final leg to San Jose.

The flight would arrive around 7:00 PM, so before departing from Dulles, I called the board president and requested a delay in the proposal until I arrived.  Sitting in the middle seat of a cramped plane only added to my anxiety about missing an opportunity. The connecting flight in Las Vegas was also delayed, but I was determined to get to the school board meeting. Once the plane landed in San Jose, I drove directly from the airport to the board chambers to introduce my proposal.  It was almost 9:00 PM when the board discussed the proposal and shortly thereafter approved it unanimously.

Although I enjoyed the adventure and adrenalin rush both high-profile positions offered to me, I hadn’t realized that I was neglecting the diversions that had balanced my life. I no longer buried my nose into a good biography or followed the NCCA basketball tournament to its inevitable exciting conclusion. I couldn’t remember the last San Francisco Giants game I attended that didn’t include a business and relationship-building component or a movie that I could enjoy with Sandra and the girls.

Most apparent, I wasn’t spending time just hanging out with the larger Peralta family.  Sandra, her parents and sisters, and we husbands had always been close. We baptized each other’s children and gathered frequently at the Peralta’s house for no other reason than to be together.  There were the weddings, the family parties, the college graduations, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and News Year’s Eve that also kept the bonds strong.  I had rationalized that I was still fully engaged through the holidays and major family events, but in reality, my career and my public life had taken center stage.

What I was missing were the bull sessions and drinking beer with Mr. Peralta around the barbecue pit on a lazy Saturday afternoon, the “honey-do” home improvement projects and customary beer drinking afterwards with Eddie, the ballgames with Pancho, and the conversations about business and politics with Miguel. I wasn’t keeping up with the family stories and gossip I so enjoyed with Mrs. Peralta, Valerie, Kimberley, and Shelley. My dizzying work and school trustee schedule kept me occupied.

The Comcast executive salary provided a lifestyle that I could never have imagined. I was able to take my family on vacations to the east coast, Hawaii, and Puerto Vallarta.  We even took mini-trips to Santa Fe and the Grand Canyon, and weekenders in San Francisco and Monterey. I was speechless when my father-in-law proudly and emotionally walked onto the grounds of the White House on a tour I had arranged. When Senator Hillary Clinton visited San Jose for a rally during her historic presidential campaign, my family and I had access to seats next to the stage.

I had reasoned that these opportunities made up for missing day-to-day family interactions. I had reached the apex of my comeback and the college failure demons had been destroyed.  I was an executive for a large corporation who traveled throughout the country to represent the company’s interests and I was a trustee for a large school district. The political bug had bitten me again and I was poised to take it as far as I could. With a small group of supporters, I started to map out a strategy to prepare myself to be a future candidate for higher office.

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 3 (excerpt #22)

Campaigning for city council from the back of a pick-up truck in 2000. (Photo Courtesy of Patricia Rocha Malone)
Campaigning for city council from the back of a pick-up truck in 2000.
(Photo Courtesy of Patricia Rocha Malone)

Blogger’s note: This is the 22nd installment from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. I post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning. Check out the “About Summer in the Waiting Room” link at the top of this page to learn more about the story. To read previous installments, go to the “Tags” link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”

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Losing that second campaign for school board didn’t diminish my ambition or my hopes of winning election.  Two years later, I decided to run for the city council.  I had earned some name recognition with voters during the school board campaigns and my professional profile improved with my position in the business world.  The only person who stood in the way was a high school board member who was the scion of a political family whose father had served in the California state legislature for two decades.

In the spring primary election, each of us defeated two other opponents to earn spots on the general election ballot in November.  Primary election night would be the highlight of my electoral political career as I gave a victory speech, with three-year-old Erica in my arms, in a packed campaign office, to the cheers of my family, friends and supporters.

I started the fall campaign trailing badly in the polls, so with the support of a small cohort of extended family and friends, the campaign team was essentially a family affair.  The Peralta girls and Miguel walked precincts every weekend and called voters every night asking them to vote for me. My mom and Mrs. Peralta shared phone bank duties as well.  Pancho, Eddie, Will, and Rudy fanned out throughout the district posting campaign signs on supporters’ yards and along major roadways.

Even Marisa, just five years old, walked door-to-door campaigning with me, her infectious smile confidently persuading people on their front porches to vote for her daddy. After a long and vigorous campaign, I couldn’t overcome my opponent’s well-known name and well-financed campaign machine.  The returns on election night proved to seal my third electoral loss in six years. I was devastated as I addressed supporters in a crowded room at a local restaurant to thank them on my family’s behalf.

As people gathered around me with tears and hugs, I felt something tugging at the bottom of my sweater and looked down to see Marisa looking up at me with teary eyes saying, “Daddy, I’m sorry you lost, but I’m kind of happy because we could have you back now.”  The next morning, I woke up after just a few hours of sleep with my political dreams smoldering in the ashes of failure.  Despite the fact that my political career was over, the ambition to succeed and erase the demons of the past with a focused urgency hadn’t gone away.

I was committed to putting all of that energy into spending time with my family and building a career as a corporate executive.  As it turned out, I spent more time chasing the elusive concept of success than I did enjoying my family.  I wanted to be a good husband and father, and I loved being with Sandra and the girls, so I made sure that I was home for dinner every night I was in town and available for as many school events and family events as possible.

For several years I coached Erica’s little league teams, but it wasn’t unusual to hear the kids shout, “Coach García is wearing a suit again,” because I would have to run out right after practice to be on time to my first meeting for the evening.  Despite my efforts to be a fully engaged father, my professional ambitions took the lion’s share of my time.

When Comcast acquired the local cable company as part of a nationwide eighty billion dollar transaction, I was now working for a major American corporation with countless opportunities for those who wanted to get ahead.  During a tour of Comcast facilities in San Jose, the new senior vice president for the California region stepped into my sparse office, asked about my background, my family, and my plans for the future.  I filled him in with the basics about Sandra and the girls, my career up to that point, and boldly proclaimed that I wanted to be a vice president someday soon.

Over the next several months, the senior VP called on me to lead selected projects in the regional government affairs department, which I accepted without hesitation.  Although these special projects required me to be away from the office often, my direct supervisor was supportive of my ambitions and allowed me the time needed to be away. I was making much progress in my climb up the corporate ladder when I became close friends with a colleague at the corporate office in Philadelphia.

He was a bright executive forging his own way up the organizational chart.  We had much in common: we were both in our 30s, we both had our eyes on higher executive positions, we both had the same philosophy on government relations, and we both were persons of color.  He asked me to help at the national level when a local elected official from California with whom I had a strong working relationship was appointed to the telecommunications public policy committee of the most influential municipal advocacy group in the nation.

With me and my colleague representing Comcast, we co-hosted a dinner with the California official in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the telecom committee members. Just like that, I became familiar to executives at corporate headquarters as a valued representative of the company, especially with Latino political organizations.  Before long, I was in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Santa Fe, and San Juan, Puerto Rico representing Comcast at national meetings of Latino public policymakers.

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 3 – Redemption (excerpt #20)

Ready for work in a suit and tie – 1993 (Sandra & Eddie García Family photo)

I called Mr. Shirakawa as he suggested and found myself in his office a couple of days later.  He quickly secured a job interview for me as a legislative assistant to legendary Latina councilwoman Blanca Alvarado.  I had met her at the convention center just the week before.  As the longtime city council representative who represented east San Jose, she was a household name at my parents’ kitchen table, so it was a surreal experience sitting in her office a few weeks later for the interview.  The interview went well, so I was hopeful as I left the meeting.

By mid-summer, more than two months after graduation day, I hadn’t heard back from the her office so I applied for jobs at the City of Santa Clara, the high school district, and an assemblyman’s office.  No job offers resulted, and the familiar feelings of doubt and uncertainty about my abilities began to creep in.  That fall, after two more months of anxious job hunting, the councilwoman, who had recently been named vice mayor of San Jose, offered, and I accepted, a three-quarter time position.

The next three and a half years were an exciting time for me.  After several months, I earned a full-time position as a legislative aide working on community development and controversial public art projects.  In this capacity, I had the opportunity to learn about the public policymaking process, and the rough and tumble world of local politics.  I worked tirelessly, never turning down an assignment or a night out at a political event.

I had quickly become one of the vice mayor’s most reliable lieutenants.  When her tenure ended due to term limits, she asked me to manage her campaign for the county board of supervisors.  I was flattered, excited, and apprehensive as I had never even worked on a campaign, much less managed one.  It was a hard fought campaign, complete with mudslinging from both sides and eighteen hour days, that wasn’t decided until the early hours of the morning after Election Day.

I had taken myself to the limits physically, emotionally, and mentally juggling the responsibilities of managing the candidate, the press, campaign donors, advisers, and volunteers.  After the early morning victory had been secured, I spent the next thirteen months in her office as a senior policy aide on the county board of supervisors.  Within months of assuming my new position, I was itching to do more as the failure demons began sneaking back into my consciousness.

I was thirty-two years old working as an aide to a local politician.  In my impatient mind, it wasn’t good enough to erase all of the years I lost in my personal wilderness.  The summer after Election Day, the supervisor sent me to Los Angeles to represent her at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) annual conference where I attended workshops on campaign management, and media relations, and heard the mayor of Los Angeles, the governor of California, and United States senators speak on a national stage at luncheons and dinners attended by thousands of politicians, community leaders, and education leaders.

I was fascinated and intoxicated by the power and influence that permeated throughout the convention hall so much so, that on the flight home, I had decided that I would pursue a career in politics.  I was certain that the prestige of being a successful public servant would cast away my demons for good.  That fall, I ran for a seat on the neighborhood school board, and despite running a solid campaign, I lost to a couple of longtime incumbents by a few percentage points.

When I returned to my full-time duties working for the supervisor, I continued doing my job as my impatience to become successful began to rise and my confidence sank.  As I contemplated my future, I faced struggles in my personal life.  Early in 1995, my mom suffered a major heart attack that required bypass surgery and my dad died of stroke at the age of sixty-nine later that fall after a series of heart attacks and strokes that began in his fifties.  Those two events had a profound effect on me.

My mom was the glue that kept everything together, so to see her in a vulnerable state heightened my sense of uncertainty. My dad provided the philosophical and practical foundation of my life, so a deep emptiness and an uneasiness of what the future would hold became part of my being.  During this time, I began to pay attention to my own health and mortality, and developed an intense urgency to erase the disappointments of the past and achieve success before the fate of genetics cut my life short as well.  I started to eat better and exercise on a regular basis, but I also began a pattern of working to near exhaustion.

The Cesar Chavez Legacy

0000_cesar-chavez

On Friday, President Obama released a proclamation that read in part,

“I, Barrack Obama, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 31, 2014, as Cesar Chavez Day.”

In commemoration of Cesar Chavez Day, I share one of his most important speeches, “1984 Address to the Commonwealth Club.” In that speech, Cesar describes how the farmworker movement gave hope to a Latino community seeking fairness, justice, and true equality.

With one powerful quote, he lays out the future of Latinos in the United States:

“Like the other immigrant groups, the day will come when we win the economic and political rewards which are in keeping with our numbers in society. The day will come when the politicians do the right thing by our people out of political necessity and not out of charity or idealism.”

I hope you take a minute to read the entire speech by clicking on the following link:

http://www.chavezfoundation.org/_cms.php?mode=view&b_code=001008000000000&b_no=16&field=&key=&n=8

Let’s Start a “Courageous Conversation”

Book cover for "Courageous Conversations About Race" (courtesy of Google Books)
Book cover for “Courageous Conversations About Race”
(courtesy of Google Books)

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a kindergarten classroom at a school on the east side. I was able to see an excellent teacher at work. Just holding the attention of energetic five-year-olds seemed like a tall order. The teacher was engaging and positive as she led the students through a math exercise. Some kids were attentive, others were restless, and most were somewhere in between. What impressed me most was that the teacher worked hard to involve each student.

I witnessed the teacher practicing what educational equity experts call “meeting students where they are.” In other words, the teacher didn’t expect every student to be the same and she made adjustments for each student’s strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, as an education blogger and former school trustee, I’ve heard many other teachers express frustration that students don’t come to school ready to learn.

So what does “ready to learn” mean? Essentially, it describes the model student: conscientious, organized, and prepared to learn every day. This must start at home, the argument goes. With that reasoning, some educators believe that high academic achievement could become a reality because the school system would be able to do what it is designed to do: teach.

Unfortunately, that’s just not real life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone was conscientious, organized, and prepared? That would eliminate most of the world’s problems for sure. The reality is that students, like all people, come in all colors, cultures, sizes, intellectual abilities, and social classes. Despite this diversity, every student can succeed if school systems truly understood and accepted that everyone is different.

In their insightful book about equity in education, Courageous Conversations About Race, Glenn E. Singleton and Curtis Linton use meticulous research to demonstrate that society, school systems, education leaders, and classroom teachers more times than not prejudge students based on race, cultural background, and socio-economic status. This results in practices that marginalize students of color and sets them on a course that discourages a future college education.

All too often the school system and educators dismiss kids of color with the cop-out that “college isn’t for everyone.” In response to my post last week, several readers shared with me their own experiences with this discouraging phrase (click on https://esereport.com/2014/03/17/college-can-change-your-life/ to read last week’s blog). One reader recounted how her son’s high school counselor encouraged him to be a truck driver because he could make good money without a college education.

In his 2009 report on closing the achievement gap, former California State Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell recognized this problem and recommended culturally relevant professional development as a solution (click on http://svefoundation.org/svefoundation/files/p16_ctag_report.pdf to read Superintendent O’Connell’s report). Unfortunately, few school districts have attempted to develop a comprehensive and systematic approach to implement this recommendation.

Why is this? To even start thinking about implementing a culturally relevant professional development program, school systems must first acknowledge that racial and cultural bias actually exists.  Singleton and Linton write that talking about these biases is “a difficult conversation, one that clearly troubles educators and can make everyone downright uncomfortable.” It’s hard for good people to believe that they hold such biases.

One would think that in a place as diverse as Silicon Valley, having this conversation would be easy. But it’s not. I’ve discussed this issue with several superintendents who have implemented equity and culturally relevant professional development programs in their districts. In those initiatives, teachers, staff, and the school communities were skeptical and resistant to even begin the conversation. Although long-term relationships were tested and challenged, the end results for students were good.

School leaders may be reluctant to venture into the wilderness of starting that difficult conversation.  It will take conviction, courage, and commitment. Nevertheless, we need to have these discussions as a community for us to ensure that all students have an opportunity to achieve and succeed.

So, I suggest that we support our education leaders and start a “courageous conversation” right here on East Side Eddie Report.com. I want to hear about your experiences with racial and cultural bias as a student, parent, teacher, school administrator and how it impacted your decision to continue (or not continue) a higher education? If you don’t feel comfortable posting publicly, but want to share your story, please feel free to e-mail me confidentially at eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net.

Let’s be bold and start talking!

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Eddie is available to speak at your next event or conference.  To learn more about speaking services click on the “Speaking Engagement” tab under the banner on this page.

To schedule Eddie for your next breakfast, luncheon, or dinner event, e-mail eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net, or call 408-426-7698.

Leadership Lessons from a Hall of Fame Coach

carrphoto
Coach Percy Carr (right) on the night of his 800th victory at San Jose City College.
(photo courtesy of City College Times)

When walking into the basketball gym at San Jose City College, the first impression is that the place is literally spotless. If you show up around 3:00 PM, you’ll likely see Coach Percy Carr sweeping the floor, as he has for the past 38 years. It doesn’t matter that custodians probably just swept it; Coach Carr wants to make sure that the floor is in perfect condition for practice.

In 38 years at SJCC, Coach Carr has won over 800 games, the most in California history, and led his Jaguars to 34 playoff appearances, 12 conference championships, and 8 state championship games. Despite this success, there are no banners hanging in the gym trumpeting his accomplishments.  That’s just Coach’s style.

In addition to his success on the floor, Coach Carr founded the Creative Athlete Retention Response (CARR) program at San Jose City College. The CARR Program offers athletic and academic advice to all SJCC athletes. Ninety-seven percent of SJCC basketball players go on to a four-year university. In 1998, Coach Carr was inducted into the California Community College Basketball Hall of Fame. I was fortunate to sweep the floor right next to him as one of his assistant coaches from 1989-1991

Throughout my career, I’ve been around some amazing leaders, and Coach Carr tops that list.  Working for Coach was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. The lessons I learned from him have helped form the core of my own leadership journey. This season, Coach welcomed me back to the Jaguar family as the public address announcer for home games. Watching him working up close again has reminded me of those lessons.  I call them the “Four Be’s of Leadership.”

  1. Be Excellent

Many of the players that come to play for Coach Carr are from inner-city neighborhoods with few positive role models. Coach provides these young men with the highest quality of equipment and facilities. The locker room resembles a facility usually seen only at top-notch Division I universities. He’s a stickler about personal grooming, good manners, and study habits. He gives and expects excellence from his players outside and inside the gym, 24/7.

  1. Be Prepared

Early one Sunday morning, Coach called me from the airport after visiting legendary UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian and watching his team play. Coach Carr learned a new technique to help players on defense stay a step ahead against speedy opponents. He asked me to meet him at the gym when he arrived in San Jose to demonstrate the move and prepare for the next day’s practice. Monday’s practice was seamless, and the Jags defense led the team to 28 victories that year.

  1. Be a Teacher

When young men first arrive on campus at SJCC, they have little experience managing life on their own. During my two years there, I watched Coach teach them how to navigate the financial aid bureaucracy, shop for groceries, and conduct themselves in public as respectable young men. He taught them how work effectively in a team environment.  And for a couple of hours a day, he taught them how to play basketball.

  1. Be a Winner

This year’s team is a classic SJCC Jaguar squad. They’re big, fast, and very talented. The team is also young, which resulted in a rocky start to the season. The team would take early leads in many games only to succumb at the end. They couldn’t find a way to win. Coach didn’t give up. He made adjustments, tried different line-ups, and convinced the young players that they could win. The Jags started to play like a well-oiled machine and sent Coach to the playoffs for the 34th time in his career.

Although it hasn’t helped my March Madness brackets, I learned a whole lot about coaching basketball from Coach Carr. Like his players, I spent only two years at SJCC, but left with a lifetime of leadership lessons. Working to be excellent, preparing for each assignment and project, being a teacher to those under my care, and striving to be a winner have guided me as a father, husband, community leader, and executive.

At the end of the day, Coach Carr’s leadership isn’t about basketball; it’s about inspiring young men and giving them the tools to be successful. His former players are now lawyers, doctors, teachers, coaches, and businessmen.  I’m sure this year has been an incredible experience for the players and the young coaching staff. They went to the playoffs, Coach is a step closer to 900 wins, and most important, the young men he leads are headed for a successful life.

California Can Have World-Class Schools Again

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The other night I was relaxing and listening to The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour album when I heard the familiar sound of a recorder, a flute-like woodwind instrument, on the song A Fool on the Hill (hear Paul McCartney on the recorder at 1:25 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-8gd1jD0oM). The high-pitched melodic sound of the recorder brought back memories of elementary school. Readers from my generation will remember the recorder as the public school system’s introduction to music education.

Every student was issued a basic plastic recorder that taught us how to read music by belting out old standards like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Mary Had a Little Lamb. Some students were inspired to take their musical interests to the next level by joining the school band. I tried the saxophone and quickly learned that there was no way I could ever earn a living as a musician.

I was lucky to grow up during a time when California had the best public school system in the nation. With voter approval of Proposition 13 in 1978, everything changed. The anti-tax law slashed school budgets to provide only the basics. The result has been three and a half decades of limited resources and opportunities for working-class kids. With courageous local leadership, the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) could change that.

From the 1950s to the late 70s, California’s stellar public school system was a symbol of the state’s role as an economic juggernaut during our country’s longest period of prosperity. In 1968, the year The Beatles released A Fool on the Hill, 58% of the state’s funding went to education. According to the California Department of Education website, public school funding is only “40% of the state’s General Fund for 2013-14.”

So what did working-class families get for that extra 18%? In addition to the plastic recorders, there were regular field trips, art, music, and physical education. Today, music, art, and P.E. are considered “enrichment,” not basic education, and parents have to dig deeper into their pockets for fields trips and other “extras” like pencils, paper, and crayons. With the heavy emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), we’re no longer educating our kids; we’re putting them through basic job training.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially in Silicon Valley. Our tech industry badly needs a trained pool of workers, and students need job skills that help them compete in today’s economy. But let’s call it what it is, and not call it a well-rounded education. Putting all our public school resources in the STEM basket leaves few options for students from working-class families with leadership qualities and an aptitude for written and verbal communication or the humanities and arts.

State education policy analysts estimate that the LCFF will add $2,700 per student to local school district budgets for the next five years and even more in the future. At the East Side Union High School District, that means an additional $5.5 million next year. School boards should resist the temptation to use all of the new dollars on technology and STEM-related applications.

I’ve written in previous posts that education leaders need to allocate some of those extra dollars on developing systematic and comprehensive educational equity. Resources also need to be earmarked for student readiness projects and a gradual return of arts and humanities education. Unlike affluent families that are able to fund their children’s “enrichment,” the public school system is the only place that kids from working-class families can get a shot at a well-rounded education.

California schools have been in a perpetual state of budget-cutting for over 35 years. With the annual economizing, school leaders have been on an obsessive quest to run schools like a business. Treating kids like widgets in a factory has resulted in a system that prepares students to merely take standardized tests; rather than educating them.  That’s a shame.

I’m not saying that STEM and standardized tests aren’t important elements of the school system.  I’m saying that they shouldn’t be the ONLY elements of public education. As the Information Age continues to expand, we’ll need people who can read, write, and think critically; as well as people who can program a computer and write code.

During the 1950s and 1960s, California Governor Pat Brown created and funded a well-rounded, word-class public school system.  A half-century later, his son Governor Jerry Brown has developed an education funding mechanism to provide more funding than local school districts have seen in decades.  Let’s hope our local leaders use that extra funding to inspire another era of word-class education in the Golden State.

Leadership is a Tough Business…What’s the Goal?

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Five years ago, I helped create the Latino Leadership Alliance (LLA) Leadership Academy in collaboration with Stanford’s Center for the Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity to identify, develop, and support emerging leaders that work with Latino communities. Last week, the group introduced Cohort 5 of the LLA Leadership Academy and Stanford Leadership Institute, and continued to strengthen its role as a respected institution of leadership training and learning in the Silicon Valley.

The LLA Leadership Academy developed a model of servant leadership based on bringing together the business, community, education, and public sectors for the common good of the community. In addition to the intensive eight-month program, one of my favorite dynamics of the academy is the ongoing dialogue the cohorts have about the practical practice of leadership after graduation.

At last Thursday’s announcement event, one of the academy alumni posed a fascinating question. She was deliberating on an issue as a leader of a community group that appeared to be in conflict with her role at work and her personal values. Her thought-provoking description of the situation reminded me that leadership is a complex and tough business.

Although there have been leaders since the dawn of humankind, leadership as an academic discipline has only been around for about 50 years. The academic research has resulted in many schools of thought on business, organizational, educational, and political leadership.  There are common threads like trust, integrity, and the common good.  Unfortunately, however, there’s no silver-bullet to help resolve complicated questions around conflicting considerations.

As a corporate executive, I faced many decisions when company goals, a community group’s objective, and my personal beliefs were seemingly in conflict.  Adding to that soupy recipe are personal relationships and political considerations.  Once you stir it all up, it’s a thick stew that requires balanced deliberation to get to the right decision.  So how do you do that?  One question serves as a solid starting point when confronting these sticky situations: What’s the goal?

The question sounds so simple, but making difficult decisions is usually fraught with a complex web of potential winners and losers, advocates on all sides of the issue, and negative impacts if the decision isn’t sound.  If your goal is to save your own skin, then get out of leadership business.  However, if your goal is to take the best course of action, you must eliminate the noise that could cloud your decision.

Executive management deals with thorny choices on a daily basis.  One such decision I made in my corporate career stands out for me.  When I had secured a coordinator position for my department, the job description was going to be a dynamic on-the-job process because the position was new to the organization.  Therefore, the qualities needed for the role weren’t cut and dry, which made the decision even more complex.

After an initial round of interviews, two candidates stood out from a long list applicants. They had distinctive personalities, unique relationships within the company, and different skill sets.  Since I’ve never made a secret about my passion for providing opportunities to qualified and talented Latinos, the fact that one candidate was Latina and the other wasn’t complicated matters.

The lobbying for both applicants was spirited to say the least.  At the local office, managers and employees vouched for the Latina who worked there while higher-ups and department colleagues advocated for the other candidate who had previous experience in the department.  I had to consider how the decision would impact my personal relationships with the local team and my department colleagues, not to mention trying to keep my bosses happy.

It was a perfect storm where upper management and local office wants, and my personal beliefs seemed to swirl in conflict with each other. The whole purpose for creating the job posting in the first place disappeared in the cacophony of issues not related to the position. Since the pressure from upstairs and my department was stronger than that of the local team, I leaned toward hiring the applicant with department experience.

When I shared my thoughts with Sandra, which I always do before making a decision on complicated work matters, she counseled that I may be hiring someone for the wrong reasons. A sleepless night of tossing and turning ended when I finally cut through the noise and asked myself what I advise others to do in that situation.

With one simple question, I started a deliberation process that addressed the needs of my department, not the personalities or external desires of others. I had created the new position to coordinate employees in the field from the local office to better meet department needs and achieve company goals.  Out of that simple question came a simple answer.

I ultimately selected the person who met the company’s needs and reflected my personal values, the Latina from the local office. At first, the decision was met with skepticism from upper management and my colleagues.  But the new coordinator turned out to be an excellent choice and erased any doubts. I also learned a valuable leadership lesson: When confronted with a complex decision, cut to the chase and ask yourself, “What’s the goal?”

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