Years ago I gave a presentation to a local organization that talked about leadership in the black community. It was a general conversation with some people that I knew, as I was part of the organization, and part of what I wanted to address was why it seemed that gangs were so prominent and strong in the area when it seemed like they would be bad examples for leadership.


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Of course I’m the guy who wrote a post titled 5 Ways A Gang Leader Is Better Than You, so part of this I’ve previously addressed. However, the five points I wrote about in that article weren’t the same five topics I mentioned when I spoke to the group. I’d like to take some time to talk about those, but first I want to address a beginning point.

Back in February I wrote a post titled What Is Leadership and I defined it as “Leadership is the ability to get other people to agree with you and help you achieve your goals.” If you notice, I didn’t define good leadership, only the word itself. In this manner, it allows us to talk about gang leaders, or gangs themselves, as an interesting group to look at when we talk about leadership.

Let’s look at what gangs and their leadership do that helps to make them seem as though they’re the place to be for a lot of the young people living in the community. Before I do that, I want to say the only reason I’m using a black community in my example is because it’s the only one I have any experience with. I’m sure the same type of thing applies to other dangerous communities across the country.

1. Total Visual Access

The thing about a gang is that it’s always visible. Quite often, so are the gang leaders, who aren’t afraid to get out among the people driving fancy cars, wearing expensive jewelry or dressing to the nines. This is a very important step towards being a leader because in many corporations across the country people rarely see those that are in charge. They may see who they directly report to, but the folks who make the big decisions usually stay secluded in their offices or only approach people who directly report to them and nobody else. You and your employees know they’re around somewhere, but without more direct contact with the people you’re not necessarily sure what you’re getting. With gangs, even if people fear the leaders, they know who they are and that’s a very important thing.

At most of the hospitals I’ve consulted at, I’ve never met most of the people in administration. I didn’t have to since I was coming in from outside. However, if I was at a place long enough I would ask the people I was working with what leadership was like. At only one hospital in 14 years were the employees able to answer that question, since most of the time they might have seen that person once or twice… at one hospital they’d never seen the person in charge except in the media.

I can understand that happening in places with tens of thousands of employees. I would ask though, how hard can it be to take a day here and there to visit different departments within the organization and see what’s actually going on, or maybe take questions from some of those people? Didn’t any of these people see the show Undercover Boss, which I talked about in a previous post about communicating as a leader?

2. Fearlessness

Whether the decisions are good or not, one thing you never see out of gang leaders is fear. They’re not afraid to make decisions, they’re not afraid to kill or be killed, and they’re not afraid to do whatever they need in order to be successful.

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Many times the majority of us see people in positions of leadership who don’t seem to know what they’re doing and are afraid to make a decision. If you have to respond to someone like that it can be frustrating because often you’re trying to get something done and the powers that be are pushing back with their indecision. As I’ve written on this blog every once in a while. Sometimes a bad decision is better than no decision at all, and delaying things doesn’t make tough decisions any easier.

3. Allow others to make some decisions

Within gangs, the ultimate power is definitely at the top. However, gang leaders are very good at allowing those below them to make a lot of decisions. Those people allow others to make a lot of decisions as well.

What they understand that many corporations in this country don’t understand is that you have to have a singularity of goal to start with, and then you have to let people do what they need to do to help you get there. You train them as much as possible, you teach them the rules, and then you let them go out and show you what they can do.

With the gang, there’s really only two things they’re after, those being money and power. They don’t care how the money comes in, and often they don’t care what it takes to keep the gang in power. The people who work for them know this, and then they have the responsibility for doing what they need to do in order to achieve these two goals.

Of course, in business part of your rules need to contain rules of restraint; it’s not a gang after all, so you don’t want your employees breaking the laws or intentionally hurting others to be successful… I hope…

4. Loyalty

This one might seem strange on the surface, but it’s probably the most important quality that gangs need, demand and receive.

Except in rare circumstances, there is no retiring from a gang. The people who join these gangs normally live in those communities, pretty much don’t have anywhere else they can go, and end up being very loyal to the gangs and the leaders of the gangs. They will tend to wear the same type of clothing and get tattoos to show how loyal they are to each other. While it’s true that a lot of that might be fear for many members, it’s still an interesting concept to consider.

It’s interesting because, even if it’s fear induced, the gangs are loyal to each of their members as well. They will back each other up, and if one member is hurt they’ll find ways to exact retribution on those who caused the grief. No one wants to think of an eye for an eye exacted in that way as being a good thing because there’s a lot of gang violence, but think about how important it could seem to an employee to know that the person they work for has their back.

5. Profit sharing

Although it isn’t great, what you find in gangs is that the more money individuals make, the more money and responsibility those individuals actually get. It turns out that being in a gang is a much worse job than working at McDonald’s, yet for those individuals who show true talent, as far as gangs go, they’re given more money, more responsibility, and promotions.

In a gang, it’s important at each level of leadership for them to keep an eye on those who work for them because it’s more integral for gangs to not only know that their processes are working, but to be able to determine if someone isn’t pulling their weight. At the same time, they always recognize those people who stand out and applaud them, something that traditional business is bad at doing.

As I said, this is not a positive piece on leadership as it applies to gangs. Sometimes some of the best leadership qualities are contained within groups or organizations that we may not like or agree with. I like to call it my 35% rule, which means 35% of what someone does might be right or valid, but the other 65% that makes us distrust or hate them. That’s just how it is. In a case like this, we look for the lessons that might be positive and see what we can do with those, as it also helps us understand why these types of groups can exist.

Overlooking the gang part of it, what do you think about some of these concepts as they apply to leadership? What do you believe you could do, or that your company should be doing in regards to some of these?
 

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