On Leadership: The Federal Coach

Operation HOPE's Bryant

John Hope Bryant, shown with FDIC Chairman Sheila C. Bair, has written a book on how love and leadership create success in business.
John Hope Bryant, shown with FDIC Chairman Sheila C. Bair, has written a book on how love and leadership create success in business. (Alejandro Lazo)
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

John Hope Bryant is the author of "Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World," which examines how leading with love and respect creates success in business and life. He is the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Operation HOPE, America's first nonprofit social investment banking organization. Since its inception in 1992, the organization has served more than 1.2 million individuals. Bryant was recently asked to serve on President Obama's Advisory Council on Financial Capability.

What advice do you have for young leaders?

Andrew Young told me that you can't have a movement without young people, and I never understood that before, but I do now. Young people need to understand that what they lack in wisdom the world needs in passion. But it's not an either/or proposition. The world also needs them to be wiser than their years. [So,] find something you're passionate about, because if you don't, you will fail.

Understand that it's what you don't know that's killing you. Go get the wisdom that you don't have through mentors and role models. Find purpose that's larger and more important than yourself. Be curious about everything. I asked Quincy Jones how he got so smart, and he said, "I'm just nosy as all hell." [Finally,] be humble, be oblivious, lead lovingly and never give up.

From Andrew Young to Quincy Jones, you have had some amazing mentors. What leadership lessons have you learned from them?

My mentors told me three things that I value most. Don't expect to win a popularity contest. I would rather you respect me and learn to like me than like me and never respect me. You may have to take the road less traveled and go by yourself, but that doesn't mean that you're wrong. Be a leader, don't be a buzzard. Fly high and be an eagle.

No. 2, decrease you and increase others. When you've got the power, don't abuse it. Because you're a servant leader, it's about what you have to give and not what you have to get. No. 3, never give up. Quincy Jones said, "John, it takes 20 years to change a culture."

How can federal leaders use your book's five tenets of love leadership to become better leaders?

Loss creates leaders; you cannot have a rainbow without a storm first. Problems and challenges cause you to grow. Sometimes in Washington people's get-up-and-go has gone, and they have forgotten the storyline of why they came to Washington to work in government.

What I say to them is the same thing that I say to my employees. Go find something you're passionate about. The thing that has kept me going for 18-plus years with this movement of mine is that I'm more passionate than the first day that I started. It is not a job or occupation, but it is a passion born from pain from my childhood experience.

How do you define leadership?

Leadership is the difference between the science of what you say under a sustained, normalized [and] resource-rich environment and the art of what you actually do under intense stress and pressure with no advance notice in a moment of instant reaction. Leaders emerge in times of crisis.

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