Interview with Damone Jackson, Part 1

Happy belated Easter! I’ve been busy this season getting things done-as those of us in the ministry world know, there is a lot to do during this time of year. If I’m being honest, I also lost momentum for awhile. AJ, as he is prone to doing, gave me a swift kick of accountability at the right time. Now that the season is over, I’m going to be returning to my regularly scheduled posts and the maintenance I do behind the scenes both to learn, grow and share with you the many tenets of leadership.


This interview will have multiple components, as Damone was kind enough to give me a lot of material! I’m excited to present to you, Damone Jackson!

Cris: My first question to you […], what does being a leader mean to you?

Damone: Being a leader is putting away what you want and your things, putting them aside, and putting other people: like your team, [the] youth, your family first. That’s what being a leader is: sacrificing everything you think you want-what think is cool, what you think is nice [and] putting it off to the side and asking what does the team need, what does the group need? That’s your number one priority.

Cris: So what titles have you held in the past, and [what titles do you hold] today?

Damone: Right now, I’m the founder of Architects of Hope-it’s a non-profit organization based out of Sacramento, California, established in 2013. The double acronym for Architects of Hope is Artists and Athletes organizing Higher education. Our view and our understanding (and belief) is that student athletes within at risk communities and neighborhoods: like your North Highlands’, like your Oak Park[‘s], your Del Paso Heights’, that those student athletes dictate the culture within school, especially the football and the basketball players. They tend to be the ones that, if they don’t play sophomore and junior year football and basketball, they’re turning themselves to the streets. They need to feel that sense of accomplishment, somewhere, which we all do. [If they don’t] They tend to turn to the street violence and gangs for that love and for that companionship. So, if we can change the direction and the mindset of these specific groups of athletes, we can then dictate the culture of the high school, and then the community, and push them into being social entrepreneurs. [We help] them to develop ideas and creative cool ways to help them push their brothers and sisters and the next generation of kids in the opposite direction of what’s going on [negatively, in their neighborhoods].

Damone: I am [also] the youth pastor for Liberty Towers Church. We just have open arms to any and everybody no matter what you look like, how you feel, how old you are, how much money you have, or you don’t have-we have open arms to everybody and we’re going to love you, we’re going to accept you and we’re going to help you to reach that next spiritual level […]

Cris: Excellent! My next question is: what motivates you?

Damone: My motivation comes from a couple of different things. I’d say my biggest motivation is my parents. My mother is from Del Paso Heights. She grew up in the 70s and 80s during a very difficult time in Sacramento. She was exposed to a lot of things-her brothers and sisters were caught up on substance abuse, and in and out of jail-different things like that. Even with all that being said, my parents, especially my mother had a focus on education. She pushed us in school and she really pushed that: “your environment doesn’t make you, you make your environment” concept. And from a child, I’ve always had that [as a part of] my mindset.

My grandmother has a tombstone in front of Grant Union High School celebrating the work that she did in the Del Paso Heights Community…

Cris: …wow…

Damone: …sitting on boards, getting churches built, getting schools built-trying to push that community and that city to a level of respectability.

Some of you know that through the 80s with the crack epidemic that hit all the major urban areas so bad that Del Paso Heights was completely destroyed and is now a war torn neighborhood-they’re trying to rebuild it, but there are a lot of politics and things going on.

My father is from Southeast D.C. He’s from a single-parent household and always told us stories about his dad saying things like: “I’m going to pick you up. I’m going to pick you up,” and then his dad just never showed up or ever came. When we were children he would tell us about that, and [we empathized about how terrible that was for him.] Because of that, I understood from an early age that I have a responsibility for my family, for my peers, my siblings to make sure that my people are taken care of because my parents sacrificed tremendously.

Another motivation: as a young child, I was about in the third grade-they said that me and my twin brother were having issues with reading, so we were going to have to go to special classes to help us. I remember having anxiety in elementary school sometimes if I didn’t get something, or didn’t understand it. It used to really bother me. My parents had a meeting with the principal and my dad came in and said: “You guys aren’t doing your job. I’ll start working with them and teaching them.” From that point on, we were fine.

I went to West Campus High School-a college prepatory school and from there to Sac State [CSUS] and graduated with my B.A. I will eventually get my Master’s degree, so, I’m motivated by…

Cris: What was the degree in?

Damone: It was in Communication Studies with a concentration in Interpersonal Communication-that’s probably why I talk so much [laughter].

Cris: [laughter] And what’s the Master’s Degree going to be in?

Damone: Probably in Urban Curriculum Education Development-I want to write curriculum for youth that is relevant to the 21st century. I don’t like this old, stale stuff that’s being taught. Make it interesting and engaging to the youth. You’ll hear them say things like: “Oh yeah, that question about Drake, I remember that,” when they see him on T.V. So they’re combining their pop-culture with their education. They’re using those things to learn.

I feel that I have a responsibility to motivate students and youth and I believe that we’re going to come back to what we sew. If you don’t take care of the things you have, it’s going to die and go away. It’s never going to come back to you. You’ve got to work hard and take care of what’s in front of you now, so that, if not you, then the next generation can have something to build on to.

Cris: That leads nicely to my next question: what keeps you up at night? What are you concerned about as a leader?

Damone: Honestly, what keeps me up at night is ensuring that I have infrastructure set up for my organization so that, if some way, somehow, if I’m gone or removed, it will continue to go on and make a difference-like a well-oiled machine.

I often think about how easy it is to change our situations, especially with youth. The biggest problems are: robbery, crime, drugs, third-party homicide, infant mortality-there are very simple remedies for the things that are out here, it just takes reprogramming the parents and the youth to do things the right way, and not the wrong way. It’s not like it’s rocket science-like we need to get to the moon. It’s the simple things: reading to your kids, giving them a good night’s rest, things like that. I think the simple things can turn into really positive agents of change. The changes we need in our lives, and in our community, from the Capitol, all the way down to our worst area, are really simple. They’re so simple, sometimes I think they don’t want us to fix the situation.

Cris: If you had the opportunity to talk to yourself when you were younger-as you are right now-what would you say to yourself? What would you say to your friends?

Damone: If I had the opportunity to say something to myself at 13 or 14 years old, I would say to myself: “Don’t worry. Don’t stress out. You’re smart. You’re strong. You’re loved. You can do anything you put your mind to. And I’d probably say: “Hey, put some money into Facebook and Google.” [laughter]

Cris: [laughter] Yup! Awesome!

Damone: For my friends-I have two kind of separate groups of friends: one group of friends who I grew up with in my neighborhood, who got involved in gang-banging and the street-life really young and really early and now don’t live very promising or fulfilling lives. That group always has to look over their shoulder and is always wondering where they’re going to find their next job. So I tell them: “Just stay focused on school and let all of that stuff go. Just keep focusing on the sports and yourselves, and don’t be worried about the girls and the opposite sex in that young age.”

Cris: Hard not to think about that when you’re a teenager.

Damone: Yeah.

Cris: I guess in closing-my final question would be: what do you want to tell other leaders? What advice do you have to give for those of us striving to lead other people-to serve other people?

Damone: Take it a day at a time. Don’t get caught up in what’s going to happen next month or next year. Don’t spend time in the future or the past. Be present. Smile. Stay positive. Have a good group of friends and people around you. Be able to go out-enjoy yourself, have fun. Travel around the world. And no matter how bleak things get, always keep a positive, optimistic attitude. Whenever you meet someone, look them in their eyes, shake their hand and smile-no matter what color you are, no matter what race you are; if they have an issue with you and your ethnic background, that’s completely on them. That has nothing to do with you. Don’t let those things interfere with your interactions with that person. They are going to have to pay for everything that they do or didn’t do, or the way they feel-because at the end of the day, we are all God’s children, on his Earth, trying to be his hands and feet. No matter if you’re pink, brown, purple or orange-that’s your job, not to judge anyone else. If they do that, like we said, let the Big Man take care of that-you can’t do anything about it.

Cris: Amen.


Part II will have topical headers and cover a variety of Damone’s thoughts on leadership in general.

Addendum to Leading From the Bottom

I wanted to include something I didn’t feel I had room for, and didn’t quite state explicitly in the last post:

Distance leaves room for gossip, and ignorance creates assumptions. If you find yourself shunned, one of the best ways to resolve the issue is to draw closer to your peers. Socialize, go to lunch, find the “meeting after the meeting” and spend time dining with the others after hours in your organization. That, combined with a great attitude, should work for you…

UNLESS you haven’t resolved anything. If the problem is yours and it still exists, sometimes drawing near may make things worse.

As NBC is so fond of saying: “The More You Know.”

Leading from the Bottom

Leading from the bottom is never easy. When you find yourself in a place of lesser respect with your peers and you don’t want to be there, there are ways to climb out from the pit. They are difficult. They require commitment, self-honesty, tenacity and courage. That said, take it from someone who used to be a failure, who used to be a quitter: giving up should always be your last resort.

I had to start by asking a not-so-simple question: “why am I here?” It’s easy to point to others around you in your organization and say: “it’s their fault and here’s why”. There are bullies and cliques in every organization, and we will address them in a bit. Generally speaking, however, I discovered the only thing I can fix is myself. Taking self-inventory and finding out where I stand is Leadership 101. I’ve learned to ask myself when challenges arise: “am I sabotaging my influence, and if so, how?” On accepting difficult truths considering that question, and making some hard changes, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how my influence has increased, propelling me in a positive direction.

But what happens when the criticism is unfair, the reputation is no longer earned, and you are still the butt of jokes and condescension? What do you do when the problem is external to you?

I’ll tell you, I spent years doing the wrong thing: I took it personally. It’s hard not to. That led to me to becoming as critical of them as I saw them being critical of me, which was a huge mistake and an instant saboteur for all influence on top of my flaws. It just made them look “right” when they said negative things about me in the eyes of others. When I learned how to take inventory and started making the hard changes to eliminate those flaws, I still found myself under the gun more than I should have been.

I have two words to describe the right way for handling the criticism of others: love and kindness. Remove all criticism from your lips, treat people with respect no matter how they treat you, ignore the scoffs, side-eyed glances and casual as well as implied insults. Be kind, and practice love for others. It’s that simple. I speak from experience when I say you will become a beacon of light and your reputation will follow. Just think about the man or woman you know that everyone likes-if ever anyone spoke a harsh word against them, it would be piled back on their heads.

Proverbs 5:21-22

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.

That leads me to this: one can practice a “charm offensive” without having made any personal changes. Politicians do this quite frequently. When it counts, however, character is what true leaders look for. If someone has no character, they collaborate with other leaders who do the same. Eventually, they will stab that person in the back. When walking in shady circles, people get backstabbed all the time: there is always someone smarter and better equipped than they are.
I can honestly say, after having worked out some character flaws, and having put down the defensive criticism, I was able to love others again and I find myself respected today. The exclamation point to my story hasn’t happened yet, but God has been developing a testimony in me that I cannot ignore.

Open-Handed Staffing

On January 8th, 2015, Andy Stanley released a podcast episode entitled: “Open-Handed Staffing” where he discusses a leadership strategy whereby your employees trust you enough to give you bad news directly.

Being an open-handed leader requires a reputation for patience and availability to your staff. You are the first, rather than the last to know when the smooth operation and mission orientation of your organization hits “a bump” in the road. As a result, you are given the opportunity to encourage and coach, restrategize, and be there for those you manage in a way that endears people to your leadership, enhances your influence, and quite possibly increases the bottom line.

You can find Andy Stanley’s podcast entitled “Open-Handed Staffing” here:

The Point is Production

Right now, I have three main goals:

  1. I want to meet leaders, in person.
    • Once again, this refers back to the “Know” Principle, Christopher Barrat identified when talking about how to network. My original end-goal was to find work. Now, I feel like the networking itself will lead to provision in time, but without any expectations, I’d just like to get to know people-and in turn, maybe be known by them.
  2. I want to discover their stories.
    • It’s as I’ve said previously, I am looking to learn from accomplished people. I’m also listening for their needs, and seeing if perhaps I might be able to connect them with someone else, or help them myself in some way.
  3. I want to stay in touch.
    • Even if only once every other month or so. This will become more challenging as I develop more contacts, which means there needs to be some way to prioritize my time.

In other words, if my overarching goal is to network, making contacts is how I can be productive. This week, however, I started getting that nagging feeling again-that feeling of restlessness. Right now, I’m invited onto two leadership teams, I’ve met and befriended leaders of great accomplishment, and I’m volunteering my time toward greater causes. I believed I was being active.

“What does your day look like,” asked AJ.

“Well, I watch a TED talk, then I play a computer game, I listen to an Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast, then I watch a YouTube video for a movie review, I blog, then I go volunteer at the Ministry on Sunday night.”

“What I’m hearing is that you’re not that busy.”

The words sunk into my soul like an anchor.

“Production over Maintenance, Cris,” he said.

You see, in the opinion of my oldest and most esteemed mentor, if I am doing things like blogging, reading leadership tomes, watching videos on leadership-all of these are good things, but none of them involve networking. The blog, yes, minimally-it’s a tool toward networking in addition to a record of my journey and an attempt to help others. But his point: if making new contacts isn’t in there somewhere, I’m not really being productive. And if I’m not being productive, restlessness will set in. Maintenance is very important, but if you aren’t maintaining for the sake of your best form of production, it’s pointless.

Of course, he didn’t even mention the entertainment that I’d thrown in there. Although a little of that is a good thing, I should have seen the excess as a sign.

AJ has been there before. What is happening to me, has happened to him. The bottom line? Real networking is a challenge. It’s always tempting to ask ourselves: “What if I’m rejected?”, “What if they won’t talk to me?”, “What if they are ‘too big’ to talk to me?”, “What if I’m bothering them simply by introducing myself?”, “What if I alienate a leader by breathing wrong?” If we are not carefully paying attention, we might begin to listen to those voices, stop to count our successes, and fail to move forward without ever noticing it.

As AJ puts it: “If there is no potential for embarrassment, it’s probably not production.”

That’s not an excuse not to come into any situation with a leader as prepared as possible, but there are some things you can only learn by doing them over and over again. When growing a network, numbers are a key to success. So is the success, versatile abilities, and other leaders your contact has connections with.

I want to conclude with some thoughts about just how I’ve started collecting stories. For some leaders, the best way to find out who they are and how they got there is to hang around. Some others like the idea of a blog and are interested in being formally interviewed for it-I’m beginning to casually reference Tenets once in awhile, just to see if anyone might be willing to give it a go. Still others, I’ve found, are most comfortable talking about their journey in their office hours, and you’ll want to make a formal appointment. I’m thrilled to have discovered multiple avenues, but I’m still figuring out how to discern which leaders might go for which option.

If you have any positively-oriented thoughts about this or other blog posts, or even if you just want to say “hi”, I’d love to hear from you-feel free to leave me a comment anytime.

Facing Rejection

When attempting to get anywhere in life, rejection happens. It’s a facet of reality that most of us fear. Jia Jiang, in his TED Talk “What I learned from 100 days of rejection” faces down that fear in the best possible way and talks to his audience about what he learned from his experience.

Before you face rejection:

  1. Come Prepared to Do What You Want to Do.

When you face rejection:

  1. Don’t Run!
  2. Listen For Them to Ask You “Why?”
  3. Echo Potential Concerns
  4. Explain Yourself/Negotiate
  5. Ask Them Why They Rejected You.

Pretty amazing stuff!

You can find Jia Jiang’s TED Talk on “What I learned from 100 days of rejection” here:

The Interviews Are Coming…

I’m in the process of lining up interviews with leaders, which I will be transcribing here starting next week.

I am looking for the universals of leadership: if people respect you, I want to know what leadership is to you. I want to hear about your journey. I want to hear about what you do. I want to honor you and your ability with influence. Perhaps in this process, I’ll also be able to learn something from you.

I’m excited! I hope you are too!



The Virtues of Procrastination

“You call it procrastinating, I call it thinking.” -Aaron Sorkin.

How many of you would have guessed that moderate procrastination is a good thing?

My friend AJ and I took a first step last night: we have started a podcast about the books we read in our mutual journey toward leadership, business, success, and self-discovery! And already, there’s been lots of talk of future procrastination…

In Adam Grant’s TED Talk on “Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers”, procrastination is lauded as: “…a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue when it comes to creativity.” Fantastic! I think I need to hold off on writing more for this blog and go see if I can dig out my Super Nintendo from my old room! Unfortunately, Dr. Grant, a PhD in Organizational Psychology and top-rated professor at Wharton, founded a study that seems to indicate too much procrastination can actually decrease inflow of creative ideas around a project.

Although AJ and I have batted around the idea of a podcast before, truthfully there was never anything we felt mutually motivated to speak about until my journey toward the subtitle of this blog started a few months ago. That makes this particular venture a new idea. A new idea that we are in no particular hurry to publish.

As Grant says:

“Originals are quick to start, but slow to finish.”

We’ve accepted that we want to do this project correctly. We’ve also accepted that it’s likely it will take awhile to get things right. Grant indicates that successful “originals” skip the step in creative creation where you take poor-quality project results personally, and instead, accept them as an inevitability toward making something great.

So, we don’t have a name yet. We might take a year to get our first material out there. There are lots of things we need to learn about podcasting in the meantime…

“The first movers [have] a 47% failure rate compared to 8% for the improvers.” -Grant

All that said, I think we’re on the right track.

You can find Adam Grant’s fantastic TED Talk on “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers” here:

Failing Forward

I’ve been reading John Maxwell’s “Failing Forward” and considering some of the lessons therein.

I have a tendency toward perfectionism. When I make a social misstep, or a networking misstep, I have a hard time forgiving myself. I’m irrationally afraid I won’t get another chance. In other words, I’ve been entrenched in “Conditional Regard”, the ugly cousin of “Unconditional Positive Regard”, where I only accept myself when I meet certain criteria. The fact that they are unreasonable criteria is only icing on that cake.

Though Maxwell makes it clear through his stories that we must be aware of how wide or narrow our windows of opportunity really are, I discovered something that applies to all forms of performance anxiety:

Giving myself grace is the only way out.

As long as I am serious about change and it’s evidenced through a majority of my behavior, allowing myself grace when I make mistakes is acceptable. In fact, it’s necessary. What I had to figure out was there is a difference between a mistake and a backslide. A mistake is something I usually recognize right after it’s happened and it’s not something I want to repeat. A backslide is a series of “somethings” that I barely acknowledge and allow to continue unchecked. Guilt is only useful for the second one, but not the first. Guilt slows you down, but grace powers you forward. If I allow guilt to overtake me for a mistake after my performance record suggests positive momentum, all I’m doing is sabotaging myself from continuing in a positive direction.

Maxwell’s core concept is found in the title- “Failing Forward”. In it, he suggests that in order to succeed, you need to give yourself permission to fail. I’m new to this, but I’m beginning to understand just how important that permission-that grace is-to my personal growth, my networking, my business, and my life.

The Hero’s Journey

Another piece to the puzzle of what makes a great leader? The journey.

Think about it. Every great leader I’ve ever heard of is constantly on a journey; I mean literally, they are always traveling. Their stories often take place in cities I have only dreamt of, talking with people I used to believe I’d never have access to, flying thousands and thousands of miles around the earth on deep pockets. While out and about, they nurture and maintain contacts to the point where, because of their vision, their network, and how they treat people, they accomplish great things. These accomplishments create a burning urge to get the message out because the stories are fascinating, and potentially helpful to humankind, while having the added benefit of increasing their influence among the masses.The cycle repeats.

I started this journey seeking employment and somehow it’s turned into so much more than that. Seeking employment meant learning about how to find it effectively, which also meant learning about myself. Learning itself suddenly became valuable to me. Then, I learned that networking was the best possible way to find a way to meet my financial needs. Now I seek connections and listen for the needs of others, with an ever-strengthening belief that I will be provided for. Through continued learning, I realized that I’m a leader, although a novice one, and that is where I will find my bread and butter. I began questing locally to see what it means to be a great leader. I’ve discovered so far that leadership, more than anything else, is about honest self-exploration, a willingness to learn, to grow, to improve. All of these things are building into each other. The more contacts I make, the more books I read, the more my network grows…well, it’s becoming something bigger than me and my needs.

And I realized something today in the shower (where all great ideas come): I think I’m going to have to leave soon. I mean physically. I can see it on the horizon: I have to travel away from home. The time will come soon to start my own “hero’s journey”.

I’m not really sure why it is nascent leaders need to do this, but you see it throughout history. Jesus Christ-the founder of Christianity-pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his home country and he traveled everywhere throughout Samaria and Judea. Saint Paul himself was rumored to have reached all the way to Spain from a journey that started on the road to Damascus-that man started, lead and nurtured several of the earliest Christian churches under threat of death, imprisonment, torture, and a couple of shipwrecks. Saint Thomas (Doubting Thomas!!) was said to have reached India. INDIA in 54BC from Judea! He successfully started a Christian tradition that still exists today and claims him as their founding apostle. Theodore Roosevelt was elected to governor of New York after travelling to Puerto Rico and leading the charge up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War; we know what ends up happening to him. We remember Herman Cortes for bringing the downfall of the Aztec empire through conquest and disease-he wasn’t the best guy, but he was a leader and sailed across an ocean, burning his ships behind him to accomplish the mission of his journey. Sir Edmund Hillary is known for being one of the first to summit Everest and definitely the first to touch both poles as well as summit Everest, ever-nobody would deny his influence. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first two to land on the moon and walk on it, and they carried sway for the rest of their lives (Aldrin is still alive!).

What’s my point? Great leaders travel, inspired to accomplish great things through their journey. For me, my mission or purpose has been clear for a long time, but up until now, I’ve been clueless as to how I get there. I am fantastically glad I didn’t delete this blog, as I considered doing once or twice. I was afraid that my open exploration would reveal that I am a novice leader and that it would end my story before it began. Now, I realize, great leaders share. Though I am not a great leader yet, that this is part of my journey. I hope it inspires others to find ways to accomplish what they are meant to do.