Leadership Lessons: Ask the right questions, stay grounded, continue to learn

Written by Lauren Anthony, participant in the 2020 Spring Leadership Discovery class, after hearing from mentor Reverend Bill Stanfield, CEO of Metanoia

Since 2002, Reverend Bill Stanfield has been working and living alongside the residents he serves in the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood in North Charleston. Stanfield is CEO of Metanoia, an organization that was founded when the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina made it their goal to address the issues of childhood poverty within South Carolina. To do this, the Fellowship performed a demographic study which determined that the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood had the highest concentration of childhood poverty in the state.

This community became the focus for Metanoia, and Bill and his wife, Evelyn, were hired to live and work in the neighborhood as Urban Ministers. During their first year as residents, they spent their time engaging with their neighbors, listening to their needs and building a local Board of Directors. To ensure the highest level of commitment, Metanoia’s Board of Directors is comprised primarily of residents within the community. Metanoia’s initiatives include establishing quality housing, generating economic development and building leaders within its community.

Throughout his years of leadership with Metanoia, Bill has learned a number of key lessons that he was gracious enough to share with the Chamber’s Leadership Discovery class. Metanoia pursues a strategy called asset-based community development, an approach based heavily on the research of sociologist John McKnight and Jodi Kretzmann of Northwestern University. In creating their approach, they performed a large study analyzing 300 distressed neighborhoods. They studied the aggregate indicators of success (in terms of crime numbers or educational attainment), and compared them to what they call needs providers. A needs provider was a person or organization that would approach the community with their reserves of money and ask the community what they needed. The needs provider would then disengage and expect the money to produce the change they expected. This sounds like a pretty logical way to pursue it; however, what the sociologists found is that when they compared the aggregate indicators of success in certain neighborhoods to the number of needs providers in those communities, they found there was either no correlation or even a negative correlation.

Here’s where lesson number one comes in, which is great because it’s relevant for life and business. 

Lesson 1:  It’s important to ask the right questions. 

For a long time, what people have done, even with the best intentions, was to approach a community and ask, “What is wrong with you? If you can tell us what’s wrong with you, you may be able to get these resources.”  Bill mentioned that most likely, we have all had some success in life because someone came along and asked the exact opposite question to us.  They asked, what is right about you? What are your gifts, skills and capacities that we can invest in to make you better, stronger or more capable now or in the future?

Sometimes, in an attempt to help, if the focus is on peoples’ problems, they aren’t given a chance to prosper. Bill and Evelyn listened to the community, and by asking the right questions they successfully started Metanoia’s after-school program just one year after living in the community.  As the years progressed, they have continued to provide programs and resources that make real change and progress in their community, such as affordable housing development.

Lesson 2:  Take a stand and remain connected.

During Bill’s journey growing Metanoia, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix by Edwin Friedman taught him that good leadership is mostly an emotional process. It’s a matter of keeping yourself grounded, centered and focused when the circumstances might want to pull you in one direction or another. A good leader can do two things simultaneously: take a stand and remain connected. If you look at a leadership situation that is not going well, most likely the leader is choosing to focus on one of those things at the expense of the other – either choosing to be more connected to people (and maybe letting some things go that should really be addressed) or choosing to take a stand (perhaps sacrificing relationships and personal connections).  To be a good leader, you must do both at the same time. You can do this by creating authentic relationships with those around you so that when the time comes to take a stand, those connected to you know you’ll have open dialogue with them throughout the process.

Lesson 3: Stay grounded in a good emotional process.

In order to take a stand and stay connected, it’s important to have a means to self-regulate and stay grounded in a good emotional process. At Metanoia, they think about this in terms of “second work” and “first work.” Second work is the outward facing tasks that we are expected to do – our job description.

First work is what we need to do to ensure that we do our second work well. Your first work could be exercise, faith, meditation, etc. and it comes from different places for each person. Bill explained that we have to nurture something within ourselves so that when we arrive at any given situation there is something inside of ourselves that we honor or that we feel is genuine. First work allows us to stay grounded in order to make better decisions and to be more fair in our interactions with others.

Lesson 4: Be a constant learner.

Wake up every day with the intention of learning something new.  The best thing you can do is take the time to listen to others and give them the space to learn as well. 

Throughout Reverend Stanfield’s presentation, I learned that he is an authentic, standup guy making real change right here in North Charleston. His actions are intentional and rooted in his experience and constant learning. His work with Metanoia has already had a huge impact in the community. He has accomplished this by showing his neighbors that he is committed to their long-term success and by ensuring he will be there every step of the way. I look forward to implementing his thoughtful approaches in my interactions with the community, my friendships and in my future business ventures. 

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