Three things I’ve learned about leadership
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Three things I’ve learned about leadership

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January 21, 2019

Leading the Way

The recipient of the 2018 Linda McFerrin Award for African American Nonprofit Leadership is Vincent Lyles. Vincent served as the president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee from 2011 to 2018. Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee is the largest youth-serving organization in the city of Milwaukee, with more than 750 employees and over 2,000 volunteers.

Cory Nettles of Generation Growth Capital, Inc. and the Chairman of the Board of United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County announced the award on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

“Vincent Lyles has been among the strongest nonprofit leaders in our community. He did a great job scaling Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee impact in our community, particularly related to programming sites and especially related to the number of kids served each day. He is the perfect recipient of the Linda McFerrin Award for African American Leadership.”

Each year, a nonprofit leader will be selected by United Way’s Diversity Leadership Society and a $5,000 grant will be made by United Way to the organization they represent.

We asked Vincent to share some insights and ideas on being an effective leader.

Three things I’ve learned about leadership

by Vincent Lyles

As the president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, I knew I had some great responsibilities. I was responsible to the kids we served—I wanted to keep every child uplifted and inspired. I was responsible for our relationship with schools, with public officials and with donors—they all had unique needs and I wanted to be certain we met all of these needs. I also had a responsibility to our staff, the people who work hard every single day to create a welcoming environment—I wanted them to feel valued.

I learned a lot about being a leader over the years, but these three items were the simple things that guided my responsibilities every single day.

1. Be an active listener. Listening clearly allowed me to not only hear a unique point of view, but to truly understand other people’s ideas. It was important that I focused my attention and avoided passing judgement while I was listening. Being an active listener helped me make immediate partners and make strong decisions.

2. Address challenges head on. When I was addressing challenges, I tried to understand the challenge. I wanted to learn the data, even circumstantial data. I reviewed the options. Remember, there are always options, nothing is hopeless or unsolvable. Then I took action. Sometimes you’re the leader in addressing an issue, sometimes you’re the follower or a participant. It all depends on the challenge.

3. Celebrate the people who do the work. We had great people work for Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, people who go out of their way to take great care of other people’s kids. These are extraordinary people who do their job tirelessly. It was important to celebrate them.

I didn’t learn these three things solely on my own. I frequently asked others for their input. I had strong board of directors who provided leadership and guidance for me. I relied on the input and ideas of other nonprofit leaders in town. I also learned a lot from Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee staff and national network of leadership. I was grateful for all of their assistance.

One of my mentors said to me a long time ago, “As a leader, you should always be a bit uncomfortable.” This always gave me the inspiration to step out of my comfort zone and further develop my leadership skills. When I’m uncomfortable, I know I’m doing the right things.

Over the years, I was fortunate to watch so many kids grow up and mature. I was also able to see our staff develop—it was exciting to see part-time workers advance through the system to become a full-time staffers and eventually club managers. This is what made all the hard work worth it.

I want to end this by saying thank you to United Way. Linda McFerrin is such a tremendous person, and it’s an honor to receive the inaugural award in her name. This is truly special.

United Way is a proud community partner with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee.

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