Prison experience helps me lead my company through uncertainty of COVID-19

Traditional advice for CEOs no longer works. Business leaders need to look at the long game and prepare for action years down the road, just as I did while incarcerated.

Prison experience helps me lead my company through uncertainty of COVID-19

In this time of upheaval, when the nation is dealing simultaneously with a COVID-19 crisis and a racial justice awakening, business leaders are trying to find the most effective ways to guide their organizations. The advice out there prescribes CEOs to “be strong, project understanding and command the situation.” But this strategy doesn’t always meet our reality.

What prepared me most was my years of incarceration.

I had an unconventional journey to CEO of YouthBuild USA, the nonprofit support center for 300 youth development programs across the globe. But my experience provided me with the mindset required to lead the institution.

I served 16 years in state prison for killing my girlfriend’s rapist when I was 20 years old. I used my time in Sing Sing Correctional Facility to accept responsibility for my actions, start to make amends and build an authentic life. I knew that I had to turn my horrible decision, with all the anger and anguish attached, into constructive action. I earned my undergraduate degree in behavioral science and my graduate degree in ministry. I was the first incarcerated person to take the LSAT, and was accepted into law school. I co-created two privately funded college programs in prison and taught as an adjunct professor.

John Valverde

I was able to survive my incarceration because I trained myself to think long-term. I was sentenced to 30 years and had to serve a minimum of 10 to be eligible for parole, with the conditional release years served set at 20. I created and maintained a mindset focused on those milestones — 10 years, then 20 — which gave me windows of opportunity to fill my time. I saw fellow incarcerated people put so much hope in their appeals or some miracle that would get them out early. Each time it didn’t come through, it broke their hearts and their minds. They turned to destructive behaviors to cope or experienced mental illness. So I decided to put all my energy into cultivating an authentic life while working within the restrictions imposed by my circumstances.

JUNETEENTH:Changing local politics, not just protests, vital for racial progress

Now as CEO, I am using that same mindset during the COVID-19 pandemic to help ensure that our organization comes out the other side stronger. I’m setting realistic expectations for our team that do not rely upon outside forces. Work life will not return to normal until a vaccine is readily available, which looks like 2021 at the earliest.

As governors across the country start to loosen restrictions on businesses and activities, I remind my staff not to rely upon these ever-changing estimates. Life will not immediately return to the way it was before, and the sooner we all realize that, the faster we can resolve ourselves to success. I am currently mapping out what YouthBuild USA will look like a year from now to help my team settle into their work and, most importantly, give them the space to better themselves in the interim. That 12-month outlook — not one-month, or two-months — acknowledges our reality by ignoring moving goal-posts.

COLUMN:Country needs transformational change on policing that Trump executive order doesn't give

That long-term mindset also applies to the goals of the protests following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many others. The gatherings in cities across the globe demanding the end of police brutality and racism, and affirming that Black lives matter, are moving but real change will take time and immense effort. We must not get tired. As a collective, we need to set our sights on long-term solutions to problems that have been festering for centuries. Institutional racism will not be undone after two weeks of protests; we need to commit to a lifetime of fighting for justice.

During my time inside, I also learned that our emotions are real, and we can’t ignore them. We all live in cells of our own making, trapped by fears, anxieties, substance abuse, addiction or unhealthy relationships — all issues that are exacerbated by quarantine and social upheaval.

As a business leader, there is great value in being vulnerable, especially now. Throughout this crisis, I’ve been sharing my fears and anxieties with my team while trying to remain a calming force. A CEO does not need to be stoic and stone-faced to instill strength. By sharing my feelings, I am giving employees permission to share their own fully lived experience. I believe command and control-style leadership is dead. CEOs who don’t say “I’m sorry” or “thank you” or who don’t share anything personal about themselves will struggle to cultivate a stronger and more connected workforce during this time of separation and beyond.

COLUMN:What police can learn from a former infantry Marine about de-escalation

It’s also important to recognize our privilege in a time like this. The pandemic has only made more obvious the injustice and inequity too many face. The disproportionate impact on communities and people of color, along with the vulnerable populations that our YouthBuild programs support, cannot be overstated. Inequity is increasing and our young people, who are already disadvantaged, have a longer road ahead.

Right now it feels like we’re all doing time while watching the world burn. But we must turn this moment into time well spent by focusing on what’s at stake: health, equity and justice. As I often say to our students and graduates, if you want things to get better, you have to get better. If you want things to change, you have to change. As CEO, I will do my best to model this mantra as we navigate the months to come.

John Valverde is the CEO of YouthBuild USA.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/policing/2020/06/23/prison-experience-helps-me-lead-my-company-through-uncertainty-covid-19/3194594001/

News Related

ORTHER NEWS

Trump’s ‘mission accomplished’ moment is premature and deadly. We have not defeated COVID.

Desperate for crowds and adoration, Trump has put his most fervent supporters at risk of getting a deadly disease. Future historians will be astonished. Read more »

NFLPA president JC Tretter says NFL is putting season, players at risk with its coronavirus approach

NFL Players Association president JC Tretter said Tuesday the NFL is putting the 2020 season at risk with its coronavirus approach, calling on the league to better “prioritize player safety.” “Like many other... Read more »

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says he tested positive for the coronavirus

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro says he has tested positive for COVID-19 after months of downplaying the virus’ severity. Bolsonaro confirmed the test results while wearing a mask and... Read more »

Venice Film Festival forges ahead amid COVID-19 pandemic with reduced lineup

The show will go on for the Venice Film Festival in September, but with a few modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers said Tuesday that they are pushing forward with plans for... Read more »

Amtrak offers buy-one, get-one promotion on its sleeper trains amid COVID-19 — with a catch

Amtrak wants you to have sweet dreams the next time you travel — so much so that it’s sweetening the deal on its sleeper “roomettes.” The rail service is offering a buy-one-get-one-free discount... Read more »

Florida teen treated with hydroxychloroquine at home before dying of COVID-19, report says

FORT MEYERS, Fla. – The family of a 17-year-old Florida girl who died last month from COVID-19 treated her symptoms at home for nearly a week before taking her to a hospital, a... Read more »

Mookie Betts worried MLB coronavirus testing woes could prevent him from ever playing for Dodgers

During nearly four months away from the game, Mookie Betts said he “stayed away from baseball to keep myself sane.” It’s not hard to understand why. The 2018 American League Most Valuable Player... Read more »

Tom Hanks doesn’t get ‘how common sense has somehow been put into question’ with coronavirus

Read more »

Can Gov. DeSantis force Florida schools to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic? Some school leaders seem doubtful.

PALM BEACH, Fla. — As concern about the state order spread online, some school leaders said: Not so fast. As Florida educators puzzle over how to start the new academic year, Gov. Ron... Read more »

Texas surpasses 200,000 coronavirus cases after 4th of July holiday weekend

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas reached 200,000 total COVID-19 cases Monday, just 17 days after crossing the 100,000 threshold, a figure that took the state nearly four months to hit. The grim milestone came... Read more »