As I move through my eighth decade of living and my seventh decade of leading initiatives, I have embarked on a reflection on my successes.
One thing is clear: everything that I have achieved has been in collaboration with others.
I have found that I can only take things so far by myself, but then I need to work with others to carry things over the finish line.
Here are some examples:
I begin leading groups in 1963 in high school in Ferndale, Michigan. At the time, the school was divided between racial and class conflicts. In essence, a caste system existed in high school. The well-to-kids were the ones who held class offices and the ones likely to go to college. Next in the system were the white kids, whose parents generally worked in the factory. I fell into this group. At the bottom of the pyramid, were the African-American kids from Royal Oak Township. Very few of them achieved high status in school and very few went to college. For example, in our yearbook, African-Americans only appeared in sports and with your class pictures. There were no pictures of them in the more casual shots. I happened to know and be friends with students from these divisions.
When fights broke out in the school parking lot, the homecoming dance was canceled and the school found itself in a crisis. I was able to organize many of my friends from all divisions into a group to address the problems. We met regularly and approached each problem one by one. While I had started the initiative, all the other members of the Student Relations Council (this is the name we gave ourselves) participated equally and were able to make things happen across the divides to ease the problem.
This is my first experience recognizing the power of collaboration. I would’ve been able to do virtually nothing by myself, but with 18 other students, we were able to address and make progress in solving the problem.
Five years later, after graduating from the University of Michigan, I had my next experience with the power of community.
I was teaching in Harlem. I got to know one of my colleagues who had started a theatrical group with teens from Harlem. Al Fann invited me to join the group. I was the only white member. I was not the leader of this group, but collectively we were able to achieve success in New York City. We performed all over the East Coast. In addition to acting, I’d become the publicist for the group. This led to an article in the New York Times which contributed to the success of the Al Fann ensemble. Many of the members went on to have careers as professional actors. One woman, Vernee Watson, played the mother of Will Smith in the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Through the collaboration, I also was able to participate in writing a play, called King Heroin, which depicted the plight of drugs in Harlem.
After graduate school at Harvard, I came back home. At The Hawthorn Center in Detroit, a group of therapists was able to develop family therapy and early intervention programming. Once again, it was achieved through collaboration.
I was able to join the Ann Arbor Center for the Family, where we became pioneers in moving from individual to family therapy. I ran the family therapy training program and had the opportunity to be with an esteemed group of academics from the University of Michigan.
At the Ann Arbor Center for the Family, my colleagues encouraged me to create groups for men to help them develop as individuals and fight the stereotypes of men in society. Then I collaborated with three colleagues to write one of the first books about men in therapy.
Since then, I have written eight books; three about men, two about dogs, and three about coaching. Each and every one of them were written in collaboration, with other experts in the field.
I have had numerous media opportunities, including Oprah, the Today Show, and have made appearances on CNN, NPR, and several other media outlets. Most of these opportunities came through collaboration with publicity agents and friends.
10 years ago, one of my colleagues at the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan, asked me to teach a course for college seniors on planning for their life after college. Several of these students were players on the football team. While getting to know them, I approached Coach Lloyd Carr with the idea of creating a leadership program. I develop and ran this program with Brad Labadie, who was a graduate assistant at the time.
Through my work at Michigan with the William Davidson Institute, I was asked to go to Rwanda to work with the president of the country and the government leaders after the genocide. I developed and ran this program with Dr. Patricia Pasick. She went on to create a nonprofit organization in Rwanda called Stories For Hope.
On September 14, 2001, Phil Lynch, the president of Reuters America, called me and asked me to help the company to provide relief to leaders and families in New York City after the attack on the world trade center.
Believing that all leaders should have the opportunity for collaboration, in 1995, I founded Leaders Connect which to this day provides leadership training for leaders from many sectors in Washtenaw County. These include executives from nonprofit organizations, and leaders from the industry, government, and public schools.
In collaboration with my excellent partners, Bank of Ann Arbor, Office Evolution, Rehmann, The Surnow Company, and Zingerman’s, we have been able to create a space where leaders can talk and learn from one another.
I have been so fortunate to be able to work at a job that I love. I hope to continue as an executive coach and psychologist as long as I am able. I have many new ideas and I hope to be able to continue to find collaborators to develop them.
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