All things not always a bed of roses at Operation HOPE

February, 2011

Yes, I said it, because of course it is true.  

Nothing is perfect, and no where --- not even Operation HOPE; the place that I founded, and I have poured my head, heart and soul into for almost 19 years now.  And so, in years past when I would hear criticisms about HOPE (our work, or our work environment), or alternatively criticism about me, I use to get really sensitive about it.  I don't anymore.  

I listen to them (the criticism), working hard to catch any ring or hint of truth or wisdom that we can learn from as an organization, or me as its leader.  Such was the case just this week.

While I believe it is a great place to work (my goal is to make it one of the top 10 non-profit corporation "places to work" in the nation), and the relatively long tenure of most of my senior management team (5 years is a very short run at HOPE, with many HOPE Leaders having been with me for 10 years plus) would suggest that we are doing more things right than wrong, clearly we have many things we need to do better.  Such was pointed out to me just this week when a relatively new employee decided to resign from Operation HOPE.  They did good work for us when they were with us, and of course we wish them nothing but the best in their future chosen endeavor.  That said, this gives me an excuse to write about something I have longed to write about -- the just plain hard side of running a hard-charging organization with so many moving parts, and yet keeping all of that in line with the nobility of its organizational mission.

The person in question had strong things to say about our hard-charging culture, and what I would term our entrepreneurial, and often changing work environment, and in many ways this is 100% correct.  We are hard charging, and we do adapt ourselves to an ever changing landscape, but this is also at least partly why HOPE has continued to grow and succeed, when others are having real challenges even surviving in this economy. If no one has noticed, it is really tough out there these days, and any organization that is going to not just survive, but thrive, will have to learn how to hustle and to adapt -- quickly.  

In order to be able to do the good work we all love and live for, we have to make sure we are hitting all the marks associated with and is under-girding that noble work.  That is tough to do, evidenced by the fact that there is even to this day, really only one organization "like" Operation HOPE in the nation.  Eagles don't fly in packs.  You have never seen a flock of eagles.

In short, this was simply not a good "culture fit," and that happens everyday, between people and people, organizations and organizations, and in this case, organizations and people.  

It is natural for someone to say, "like something," but may find that oddly enough, they don't actually respect this same thing.  Or find they respect it, and yet they don't actually "like it." That folks, is just life.  There is no right or wrong, when the overriding characteristic is just "difference."  

There is a reason why the divorce rate in America is over 50%, sustained.  Love is a tough deal to sort out and get right, particularly with the myriad of other important things that must also line up in order for a "successful relationship" to blossom forth and prove sustaining.

Frankly, I believe that most of the world's problems would simply go away if we all just better understood each other.

And so, I am saying that it is entirely possibly that this person was absolutely right about what they perceived to be the "challenging culture" within HOPE, but that does not necessarily make them, or us, wrong.  Just different.  All good. Next.

The next substantive observation was that it was often "not a Love Leadership" sort of environment.  I don't exactly know what that means, but I do get that in the form of a question a lot from people, so let me address what Love Leadership actually is not.  Love Leadership is not about being perfect, or holding hands and singing "we love the world," by camp fire.  Love Leadership is not even about being nice, even though we should endeavor to be so.  

Love Leadership is all in the response to life, and the context.  Crap will happen, but what do we do about it, and how we respond to it, is what matters most.  

Life is 10% what life does to you, and 90% how you choose to respond to it.  My question is "what is your response going to be?"  Love Leadership is caring enough to "do the work." Or quoting my friend Fred D. Smith, "success in life is about successfully managing pain.  The pain we create for ourselves, and the pain visited upon us by others."  Real leaders actually emerge in response of crisis.  The other thing, is called management.

And so, years ago when I was told an employee of HOPE had defrauded a HOPE client of $1,000 that he charged her (we don't charge up front fees of any kind to clients), I didn't go defensive, or go hide under a rock of denial.  

We confirmed that the facts were indeed the facts, and then we called the client in question and apologized.  We reimbursed her for her troubles, said we were deeply sorry and we would "make it right," and of course we helped the police deal with the employee.   But that was HOPE's responsibility to deal with, as that former employee had done the wrong thing "in our name."  

At the end of the day, actually I was responsible for something that someone some 10 levels below me was doing, some 3,000 miles away from me, but that is Love Leadership too.  Our response made it all sort out.  Had we gone into the fear and denial business, I think the outcome would have been vastly different.

And so, today someone resigns from your organization and calls your baby a knucklehead (this person did not call me names).  Okay, let me think about that -- well, sometime I am a knucklehead, so it stands to reason that sometimes my baby might be as well.  That simply is what it is.  

But here is what I also know...

Operation HOPE is doing some incredible work here at home and around the world;

we have helped restructure close to $400 million in sub-prime mortgages;

recruited, trained and mobilized 13,000 plus HOPE Corps volunteers;

served more than 1.3 million low-wealth individuals with a hand up and not simply a hand out;

created countless homeowners and small business owners;

created federal policy around financial literacy;

and today we are tirelessly working to make free enterprise and capitalism actually work for the poor, on the other side of this global economic crisis.  

I'll take it, knucklehead included.

Onward with HOPE,

John Hope Bryant

John Hope Bryant is founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, bestselling author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), and a member of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for President Barack Obama









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