Connections Life Lessons: Leaders Share Their Stories
One of the greatest aspects of my career, education, and life in general has been meeting people. I love meeting people and getting to know their stories, what makes them tick and how they handle life challenges. I have met several leaders over the years and I want to give voice to their stories. Thus, I have asked a few of them to share their stories as part of my Connections blog. I will not set a schedule but will share these when I receive them. I hope that by sharing their stories, you get to know a great leader but also perhaps see a bit of your story in theirs. Perhaps we can learn from each other in this manner.
This guest blog is from someone I have become friends with personally after years of working together professionally. Rob Acton was Executive Director of Cabrini Green Legal Aid when he recruited me to join their Board of Directors. While he has moved on to other great things, I continue to serve on the Board. More importantly, we have become good friends. Rob is smart, passionate, and a true leader already. Yet, he is willing to learn from others, as well as from his personal successes and failures. With all the great things behind him, I expect even gather things ahead and am honored to share his thoughts on good leaders.
If you would like to guest blog as part of this series, please contact me via twitter, LinkedIn, or by posting a comment on this blog.
Be Well. Lead On.
In the Presence of Great Leaders
Robert B. Acton
Executive Director – Taproot Foundation New York
I am inspired by great leaders. They are rare. There is no objective measure for great leadership, no certificate or title, but when you’re in the presence of one, you know it.
The handful of great leaders I’ve interacted with have a set of characteristics in common:
1. They are obsessively passionate about the mission they are leading. Their commitment to its success is unwavering.
2. They inspire people by telling great stories. Their scope of knowledge is both deep and wide, but they really connect when they tell stories.
3. They are both confident and humble. Their confidence engenders loyalty to their cause. Their humility engenders loyalty to them.
4. They are wise. They have experienced a lot of learning over the years and know how to synthesize and apply it to new and changing circumstances and environments. They make good judgment calls.
5. They invest heavily in others. Without anything to gain, they carve out quality time for high potential people who can learn from them.
6. They experience life with unfettered enthusiasm, even joy. Each day is an adventure. A day without a hill to take is a day wasted. They live life with the accelerator pressed to the floor, every day.
7. They are easily moved. They laugh and they cry.
8. They are guided by deep-seeded values. They know they can’t fake it and wouldn’t want to anyhow. Their core is firmly in tact.
9. They love people. Actually, they are obsessed with people. They are usually the last to leave a room if there are interesting people to meet and conversations to be had. They always make time that they don’t have for people.
10. They have a masterful base of knowledge. They know their area of expertise, of course, but that’s the easy part. More impressively, they know three important things about your area of expertise, as well.
A few such leaders I’ve been privileged to know well: Charles Middleton. Tony Campolo. Sylvia Reynolds. Laura Truax.
Some I’ve observed briefly, or from afar: Tim King. Sterling Speirn. Bill Clinton. Ken Chanault. Cathy Trower.
My aspiration is less about reaching a particular job and more about “becoming” — learning more and more how to be reflective of these truly great leaders.
That’s what year 45 will be about.
About the Author:
As New York City’s Executive Director, Rob Acton sets the strategic direction for Taproot Foundation and the pro bono movement in America’s most populous city. He is known for belting out Broadway show tunes at the photocopier and trying to measure everything. Prior to joining Taproot, Rob spent over 20 years leading nonprofits, working in direct services and engaging in policy efforts designed to bring opportunity, justice, fair-treatment and second chances to residents of Brooklyn, Harlem, Chicago and Jackson, Mich. Most recently, Rob served for seven years as Executive Director of Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA), overseeing the delivery of free legal representation to more than 22,000 low-income clients. During his tenure, CGLA expanded ten fold the number of clients served and tripled the agency’s annual budget. In May 2008, CGLA received the prestigious Alford-Axelson Award for Nonprofit Managerial Excellence. Rob’s roots in NYC run deep having worked at a number of nonprofits including Legal Outreach, Inc. and the Brooklyn Juvenile Rights Division of Legal Aid Society. He has served on a number of nonprofit boards and has taught graduate level nonprofit leadership at DePaul Law School and North Park University. He earned his J.D. from Brooklyn Law School and B.A. in Philosophy and Religion from Spring Arbor University. Rob calls New York City home and his favorite root vegetable is the sweet potato, especially in the form of pie.