The Danger of Echo Systems
Interview with Joel Bryant

Dr. Joel Bryant, Ed.D.

If you are seeking directions to your destiny, you are in the right place! With over 25 years of leadership, sales, and performance development training, Dr. Joel Bryant’s expertise and experience bring a refreshing, enlightening, and inspiring approach to developing a holistic understanding of self and groups within their personal and professional settings. He provides valuable tools and techniques to help you achieve your greatness. Thanks for being here, and know that YOU matter!


Several years ago I was as frustrated then as you may be now. I didn’t know where I fit, let alone how to find my place in life. But rather than make excuses, I decided to make changes instead, which is what successful people do. Thanks to God’s grace and my grit I now sit in a place I once dreamed about and drooled over. No, I’m not rich or famous, but I am fulfilled! That’s what matters.

In fact, in the last 20 years I’ve written 55 books, published 35, ghost-written two while publishing four books for other writers, In between, I obtained three degrees including a doctorate in Educational Leadership. I’ve also appeared on regional radio and television, served as a university lecturer, newspaper editor, and board member on two area nonprofits, along with other successes I seldom consider because of my quest for greatness. These successes include being a trainer with the Dun and Bradstreet Corporation. In fact, prior to quitting in October of 2000, I was named one of only 61 employees worldwide to receive the company’s highest honor, Best of the Best Leadership Award, for my role in impacting employee performance and morale.

One year later, however, I was homeless, broke, and bewildered. I also had my car repossessed. Though painful, these experiences prospered because they improved my leadership abilities and self-reliance. They also gave me insight I couldn’t have gotten elsewhere or otherwise. My goal is to share these insights with you and to help you develop your leadership abilities. More importantly, I want to help you achieve YOUR dreams rather than eyeing others.

More about Dr. Bryant at


Read the Interview Transcript

Hugh Ballou: Greetings, everyone. This is Hugh Ballou. Welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange. Every week, we interview somebody about a specific topic or project or skillset, and we learn from people who have done some really good things over the years. Not that they have done everything correct out of the chute, but they have learned a lot of things and want to share those things with you. We who are working in the social benefit space as nonprofit leaders or clergy have difficult work to do. This series of interviews is to help you get some perspective from others in the same space, to learn from stories, and to meet some new people who are doing cause-based work.

My guest today is a new friend but a dear friend in a short period of time. We live in the same time zone, which is rare for this show. Dr. Joel Bryant, tell people about who you are, your background, and your passion. Why do you do what you do?

Dr. Joel Bryant: I’ve had about 30 years being in the nonprofit space, particularly in the church and ministry. I served as a dynamic leader in a very dynamic ministry. I learned a lot. Out of that, I evolved a passion for leadership development, skills, competence. Society is only as strong as its leadership, not its weakest link. That is my passion: helping leaders reconceive what it means to lead people, particularly in a new millennium. That is my short story.

Hugh: You have done a number of different things in your career. Give us a snapshot of the kind of work you have done previously.

Joel: I’ve had about 25 years in sales, management, leadership, and built my own companies. I managed customer service, customer acquisition, and customer retention. As a trainer, I developed people’s capacities, their ability to excel and self-actualize. I got tired of that and went to school later in life around 35 or 40. I got educated and got my doctorate a few years ago. I taught philosophy at UNC Charlotte for five years. Then I quit that and got a doctorate in educational leadership. I am an educator, author, trainer, and an ever-evolving person. I don’t have a label, but I am evolving.

Hugh: You’re also a pastor.

Joel: I used to be involved in that ministry. I think that is the most challenging ministry today. When I say ministry, I mean service. I don’t mean religious; I mean human service. The dynamics have changed. We have 72 million millennials on the planet. We have three million people who are being unchurched or unaffiliated. Church attendance is down 30-40% nationwide. On top of that, we have an influx of other faiths in what is supposed to be a Christian nation. There are some unique challenges in how we actualize and activate and integrate people into this so-called melting pot.

Hugh: It’s more of a tossed salad than a melting pot. Lettuce still stays the lettuce.

Joel: Exactly. There is a constant.

Hugh: We have listeners on here of Muslim faith and Jewish faith. The work of any religious organization is most challenging. I don’t care which of those you belong to. They are very challenging. It is pretty much the same. Synagogues have the same problems as churches do, but it’s just a different take on it. My thing is if you can lead in the church, you can lead anywhere.

Joel: Yeah. It is a very interdisciplinary environment. You just reminded me, I forgot I was an editor of a Christian newspaper. I interviewed people from every kind of faith. Even though it was Christian-based, I got to meet all kinds of faiths, perspectives, belief systems, worldviews, opinions, and attitudes. When you add those things together, they create a sentiment. Your sentiment is more important than what you believe. Your sentiment is your stance, your emotional orientation to what you believe, your posture in the world.

Hugh: There are far too few people who understand the power of love and the power of listening and collaboration. To me, those are all parts of leadership.

Joel: It’s difficult for a lot of clergy to collaborate. I’ve seen that because at a certain level, the doctrine and theology militate against becoming so aligned that you feel like you are compromising your particular perspective on your belief system. The collaboration tends to be not as fruitful as it could be if we were not so undoctrinaire, particularly in the areas that are not even that important.

Hugh: You hit the nail on the head. We major in minor things. We have a private club and split everyone else. Some people listening today represent a similar perspective that you do. Our faith is not a barrier to other people; it’s a connector. It’s a big world. Like you’ve just alluded to, it’s a rapidly changing world. As a matter of fact, I saw a Seth Godin post where he talks about if you want to remain constant when everything else is changing, we have to change to remain constant.

Your title is an intriguing title for today’s interview. I want to make sure: “The Danger of Echo Systems.” Pray tell, what does that mean? What is an echo system?

Joel: We have ecosystems. These are integrated, connected, overlapping, interweaving structures that contribute to a healthy planet. It makes it possible for us to be on the planet and to exist and thrive and flourish. An echo system in contrast is a static, fixed set of concepts, constructs, and beliefs that we repeat, reinforce. It’s almost like the soldier who is taken captive in war, and no matter what you say, he gives you his name, rank, and serial number. When you have an echo system, that is an organization that has become a closed system and does not take in new information, so it does not change, challenge itself, or disrupt itself. It just repeats and parrots their principles. In the 21st century, it is unsustainable and untenable. We have a different mindset.

Echo systems look alike. The demographics, the psychographics, how they think. It’s a homophily in social psychology. We want to be around people like us. That is good from a personal basis, but when you come into the social space and create an organization, the homophily cannot be the basis of your organization, unless you are like-minded in terms of being progressive, expansive, and curious.

Hugh: I have to look up a lot of words after today’s interview. My learned guest Dr. Joel Bryant is in Charlotte, North Carolina. Are you a Southerner by birth?

Joel: I was born in Douglas, Georgia. Coffee County, small place. Then we moved to Lumberton, a smaller place in eastern North Carolina. I am so grateful that my parents had a vision and moved us out of Douglas and Lumberton.

Hugh: I grew up in Atlanta.

Joel: Wow, okay.

Hugh: I went downtown in front of Walgreen’s. Martin Luther King was there doing the sit-ins in the ‘60s. Massive impact on my understanding of many things, especially what strong leadership is. Then he came and talked to my student body. I was right there, taking notes. Profound. I was glad to have been a part of that and to have that be part of my history of learning.

This word we throw around in society, “leadership.” Sometimes people use it as a weapon. The word “boss” can be like a weapon; I am going to tell you what to do and you better do it. That is a model unfortunately used by a lot of clergy.

Joel: It is supported by their reading of the scripture. You start with the head of every woman. They have what they call the divine order, depending on the circle you move in. That is the pastor or maybe the bishop and then a pastor. There are many titles. There is a hierarchy. Organizations that thrive today are flat, decentralized. There is a leader, a person who has the ultimate responsibility. A good leader is able to self-actualize the abilities of those around them. They create an atmosphere in which they elicit other people’s greatness or their latent abilities, and they are secure in themselves and never have to say “I am the leader.” I always tell men that if you have to use the Bible to say that you are the head of the home, you have a problem. In 20 years of marriage, before my wife passed, I never said I was the head of the home. I didn’t say that.

Hugh: There is an interesting dynamic here. As Christians, we look at the examples that Jesus gave us. He never said, “Worship me.” He said, “Follow me.” It was a very clear statement. We are not that clear. I see a lot of clergy, especially in our faith’s journey, that want to default their authority to a committee to come up with the vision or the mission of the church. There is a lot of dysfunction there. First off, they want to say the great commission is their mission. No, that’s not your choice. What do you do as a disciple? That’s your mission. They also want to do this with the vision for the church. I like to say to them, “Where in the Bible did God give a vision to a committee?” There is a visionary who leads an initiative. That doesn’t mean that you’re bossy. In that context, leadership is an energy field and a field of influence, isn’t it?  

Joel: It is, but it also has to be an expression of your essence. You mentioned Dr. King. Dr. King is what I call an existential leader. He was impacted by his leadership. We have a lot of people who are not impacted by their decisions. When I say “impacted,” I mean at a visceral level. If I am at a large organization like a corporation, and I have to lay people off, I’m not really going to be impacted. I have to make a decision that isn’t existential. I can’t even relate to that person because I have been so far removed for years.

Real leaders always have a sense of transcendence. Their ability to go beyond themselves and go into another person’s fear and call them for who they are. Not demand, not dictate, no dogmatism, no imperialism, no using the Bible to get people in line. All of these scriptures people use who are insecure in their person. They are threatened by other people who are gifted. I see this a lot with pastors. I have seen a lot of jealousy and envy. All of that comes from because that person has a grace on his/her life that you just don’t have. It’s from the body of Christ in a church sense and society in a secular sense.

Hugh: It’s the culture of the organization you lead. Our constituency is generic. We are not faith-based organizations, most of us. We might be people of faith working in the world. We have quite a few different faiths in the country, as you pointed out. We do have some fundamental similarities anchored around love, character, a vision for bringing goodness to humankind. As nonprofit leaders, what do you see in your interactions with cause-based charities, etc.? If you could say to a group of leaders in front of you, what is the #1 area people should focus on to upgrade their skills for leading in these different times?

Joel: Openness. Leadership doesn’t mean that you are finished. You’re polished, but you’re not finished. Who are you learning from? It’s the ability to be open, take in new information, hear a new perspective, and sit with that. Not always having to be the one to speak up, not always being the one to provide the direction. You should never lead when it’s not necessary. In a forum, you set the atmosphere for other people to be transparent, vulnerable, and honest, and you will learn a lot. It’s a free focus group.

People pay millions of dollars. I also moderate focus groups. They pay all this money to bring people in a room to ask them questions, and the moderator just listens. The only time they speak is to follow up and get clarification or get them to extrapolate on what they just said. They want to know how to reach their market or constituents. You have to have the ability to be open and listen.

Hugh: You keep coming back to listening. As a conductor, you know that is going to be one of my top leadership skills. What is so important about listening? How do we listen? When I’m talking to someone, and I can look in their eyes, and I can see they are forming their answer when I’m talking, I know damn well they are not listening to me. They are assuming I am going to finish. Tell us how we can effectively listen.

Joel: First of all, I have to have a real personal commitment to being a better person. Not just trying to fact-find so I can make my organization better. That is the root of impatience and interruption and pre-thought before the person finishes. When you are like that, there is a lapse or gap or lack of commitment. I want to change.

To change, I have to listen. And I mean active listening. First of all, I’m not auditioning so I don’t have to know all the answers. I don’t even have to know all the questions. I am going to put away any distraction. I won’t have my phone. My posture and my gestures are going to communicate you have my full attention. When I find myself drifting, I will bring myself back in my mind because I want to hear this. I think it’s active listening, but you can’t do that unless you have a personal commitment, not as a leader, but as a human being. I want to be a better doggone person. I want to be a different person. If I do that, that will perfect my leadership.

If I just want some information to build my organization, I am not going to call forth your greatness because one thing people do when they know you’re not listening, and I do this all the time. When I am talking to a person, and I see them not giving their attention, I stop talking. They are wasting their time because I am not going to say anything else. You are not going to get anything else from me. I might know the answer to your question, but I am not going to do that.

Hugh: Love it. You got two doctorate degrees?

Joel: I had a master’s in philosophy. I almost had two masters degrees. It’s a money thing. I did my doctorate in leadership and almost two masters and just talked. I am a lifelong learner. I read and I think and I talk to more people now than I ever did when I was doing my doctoral program. I want to know. I want to be better. I want to know what other people who are a lot wiser and older and have more perspective than me think.

Hugh: You work with leaders and help them improve their skillset. I like to define leadership primarily as being a person of influence. There is a piece here about listening. In order to be an influencer, you have to be a good listener. You can’t do it for someone. When you work with someone, how do you help them become a better listener?

Joel: Ask them questions about things they should know about, like people in their organization. Do you interact with this person on a regular basis? Do y’all talk? Let me tell you something. Life is small things. All things are small things. There are no big things. It’s the ability to validate. When you don’t listen to a person, when I am speaking to you and you’re not listening, and I discern that, you are invalidating in that moment, in my eyes, my humanity, my experiences, my desire to help you, or my desire to connect with you. How does it feel to be invalidated? What was the worst time you felt invalidated? Nobody would listen to me. Nobody paid me any attention. How do you think that makes that person feel?

Empathy. I can’t put myself in shoes I have never been in. My brother is blind; I have never been blind. I can’t be so empathic, but I can be compassionate. I can pay attention to how he moves in his world, in his household. I can make sure that I support what his limitations have caused for him. You have to pay attention. I define leadership as influence through relationship. There are people who I have great influence with. There are other people who wouldn’t listen to anything I say. I am not a leader to everybody.

Hugh: I want to point out that sound bite. Leadership is influence through relationship. Whoa. Wow. That is so key. You and I both know leaders that push toward the end result and really don’t regard the individual. When you were saying that, did you see me doing my happy dance?

Joel: Yes.

Hugh: I grew up in southern Presbyterian church. Jim Forbes, the famous Black preacher of Riverside Church in New York City, came to Florida and did a sermon in my white church. He said that being Presbyterians, we were God’s chosen frozen. We don’t show emotion. When you see me doing a happy dance, I have gotten out of that historical norm I grew up with.

Behind you on that lovely background you have, there is a book. I know people are wondering about your book. I have 10 books in print and 10 e-books. It’s quite an experience, writing a book. What was your motivation to want to put that effort and time into writing this book? Why should people read it?

Joel: Because it’s where the age is headed. Einstein said it this way, and people quote these simple quotes all the time. He said, “You can’t solve a problem with the same level of consciousness in which it was created.” Yet people are not changing their consciousness. They are acquiring data, information, and facts, but changing your consciousness means you had an experience that changes your set point. It changes how I see the world. Those experiences are not as rare as the defining moment makes it. Every moment is a defining moment. If I am present, and I am prudent, and dare I say prescient, I have some forethought, then this is a defining moment. But it needs my participation and my presence.

The new being is about the radical shift in human consciousness that is going to affect all of our systems. That is volume one. In the first chapter, I sketched a new being. What does it look like? Its qualities, competencies, tendencies. In the second chapter, I look at race and racism in America and how the new being is going to affect our racial discussion. Then I look at religion in the new being. Lastly, politics.

The premise of the book is this: Human nature is corrigible. It can be corrected. The so-called gospel of Jesus Christ is based on the new being. 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If any man be in Christ is a new creation, all things are passed away; behold, all the things that become new.” That book was not a religious book, but the basis is this. Human nature is corrigible. If it’s not corrigible, then what did Jesus come from? Why are we talking about the new birth experience? Most folks will have one experience of being born again. They point back to that day, “I gave Christ my life back in 1979. I have been walking with God.” No, you walked with a concept, a conceit, and a construct. Walking with God, I am going from glory to glory. I am changing. I am becoming a new being. That is the premise of the book.

A radical shift in human consciousness has already hit this planet, and it will cause all of our systems to have to change. I say this very simply, particularly with religion. I feel like a lot of the narrative of religion has done a detriment to human evolution because of constantly preaching and seeing the old man. Jesus said it this way. This is what I talk about with every system, every creed, every construct. Jesus says that the Sabbath, every system, every rite, every ritual, every liturgy, every sacrament, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. If as a leader I am just looking at the end goal, no, that is a perversion of priorities. A little bit long answer, but that is what the book is about and what I am about.

Hugh: Another sound bite, perversion of priorities. Think it happens much? Yeah.

SynerVision is in the transformation business. Our product is transformation. Who is that Jewish guy that said, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Renewing is what I like because it’s its own going, renewing. You’re talking about that’s where it starts. We are stuck in the past. I like to say the seven last words of the church are, “We have never done it that way before.” I don’t care what we’re leading. Our community organization is a church of sorts. It’s a club of sorts. We are guilty of getting education. The holes of university are the cloisters of people who have insider language and insider thinking. Look over there in D.C. There is insider thinking there. We don’t want to talk about politics because we don’t want to get in a fight. That might be fun though.

*Sponsored by Wordsprint*

Joel, you have talked about echo systems. That is like a status quo. What are the biggest challenges that leaders face in overcoming that?

Joel: Not going outside their field. We have this notion of a learning organization. Learning organizations have certain qualities. Part of it is they are very open. They don’t engage in specific knowledge in their particular domain. They go outside of their field and find out about what’s going on in something totally unrelated to what they do. It’s the ability to take information. Your strategy will come out of your information. The quality and effectiveness of your strategy is the direct result of two things: your willingness to get new information and your ability to apply it.

You mentioned schools and institutions. Yes, they are very closed and cloistered. They may be teaching, but a lot of schools are not learning organizations. Why? They don’t examine their mental models. A learning organization examines its mental models. What is a mental model? My assumptions and generalizations about people. Everybody has them.

Here again, I go back to focus groups. Companies spend millions of dollars a year to try to find people who can tell them the truth about their experience with their product or service. When you only rely on in-house critique- That is another problem with the church. It is immune to critique. You can’t critique a church. If you are in the so-called body of Christ but are not in that denomination, your critique is irrelevant. Why? Because we don’t do it that way. In this new millennium, churches are going to have to do what employers have to do when they get bought out. They make those employees reapply for their job. Tell me why I should keep you. Organizations today have to prove their relevance. If you are in the ministry, you can’t just say “God” because the millennials don’t care. You can’t use God as a catch-all phrase to make those people give or serve. We have to become relevant in a way to this new generation. That means I have to sit down and talk and listen and learn. I have to be in a state where I suspend all of my experience and success because I want to disrupt myself.

The other thing: When you have a learning organization approach, you disrupt yourself because you are taking in new information. You didn’t know that; that sounds good. That’s true. You go back to a successful organization and say you need to disrupt this process. We wait for COVID. We wait for a crisis. We wait for a calamity. Why? We are not trying to have a higher consciousness, and we don’t know how to handle. I see COVID as positive disintegration. This is what leaders are going to have to do if they are going to be relevant in this day and age.

This speaks to your fundraising. This speaks to everything that leaders and organizations are trying to do. Three areas: cooperation, communication, and trust. There is no fundraising problem. There is still money here. People are still spending money. They didn’t stop even when the virus first hit. Am I communicating my vision in a way that they understand it? What kind of cooperation? Am I building consensus? Am I reaching out, not just talking to the converted? Am I reaching those people in their places, in their mediums, in their voices?

Trust. Respect is given, but trust is earned. You can’t just pitch me when I’m on LinkedIn. Someone wants me to invest in cryptocurrency or some enterprise, so they just email me. You don’t even know me. You haven’t earned my trust. Those things are very important.

Hugh: Wow. Lot of good sound bites. You certainly have a powerful command of the language that we share. Even though we are Southerners, we have our own dialect.

Joel: Dialect and accent.

Hugh: Everyone else has an accent. Staying relevant, staying centered. There is a lot of pressure. You spoke about education. Do you read the works of Napoleon Hill?

Joel: Yes, I love Napoleon Hill. Think and Grow Rich is one of the first books I read. His work is timeless. It’s as relevant today as it was when he first got commissioned by Carnegie. Still relevant.

Hugh: Absolutely. Carnegie introduced him to hundreds of successful people in America. We are in a very different era, but the principles are the same. A positive image. Purpose. Defining their purpose. Positive mental attitude. Providing something good for humankind. Surround yourself with winners, the mastermind concept. If you want to be broke, hang around broke people. If you want to be successful, hang around successful people. The Napoleon Hill Foundation is in Wise, Virginia. They are releasing new things that have never been published all the time. He talks about education in the same sense that you do. It’s a catalogue of information, not a place to think outside the box or think creatively. There are people on this call who challenge that inside education, and they challenge their students to think in very different ways, which is where we need to be.

The work of Murray Bowen, family systems, psychiatrist, M.D., wrote eight concepts of leadership. The differentiation of self. Who are we? What are our guiding principles? You’re listing principles here. We tend to want to talk about values, which are typically single words that could be interpreted in multiple ways. You are talking about applying principles to our behavior, our thinking, our acting, which is so key in everything that you’re talking about. We want to be relevant in society. We want to honor the mission we are going to do. Is there a conflict in that, or can we do that simultaneously?

Joel: I think an effective organization, if it’s a shared vision, is what I am. I don’t just do; I am what I am talking about. I don’t just talk about self-actualization. It’s what I am. We have a society that for the most part, Napoleon Hill’s concepts are so foreign to a lot of people. They allow situations to determine their ability to change their lives.

If you are going to have a principle-centered life, for instance, the doctors. Above all, do no harm. That’s not situational. That’s not circumstantial. That’s not relative. Above all, do no harm. That is an eternal, immutable principle that you can apply anywhere.

We are in the age of ideology. When you have ideology, you don’t have guiding principles. You have narrow perspectives of a special interest group that is designed to promote them at the expense of other people. When you have principles, it preserves you from ideologies. We live in an ideological age today. Ideology is always tied into emotions. There are buzz words. There was a guy named Eric Hoffer who was a longshoreman. Not educated at all. He wrote a book called The True Believer. Today, when I say “true believers,” I don’t mean in the sense of faith or people. I mean in the sense of people who are looking for something to belong to that affirms their fears. They align with that at the expense of principles. There you have ideology. Ideology always promises you a utopia.

Hugh: Wow. There is so much of that right now. You’re right. It’s the opposite of core values and principles. We are anchored in principles. It’s a strong culture.

You talked about an atmosphere of expansiveness. How would a leader create this atmosphere, this culture, this attitude of expansiveness organizationally and personally?

Joel: There is no failing. There is only learning. You can cross boundaries. I have read about certain successful companies: if one person on an assembly line thinks it needs to be stopped for some defect, that person has the ability to stop the entire production process. That company’s commitment to product excellence. As a leader, how open is your organization? How transparent is your organization? Do people feel safe to bring critique? Do they feel safe to ask questions? Do they feel safe to challenge a question or position that the leader is bringing? If I am the big I, and you are the little you, you already know about my demeanor and my disposition, that’s not going to fly here. Your best people sit on their best ideas at the time you need them.

Hugh: That’s relationship-building. No matter how big we are, of course the higher you go on your pedestal, the further you fall when you fall off. I was coaching a power leader in a session one day, and he said, “Hugh, I’m getting ready to go into my team meeting. There are a few things I don’t do very well. How do I deal with that?” I said, “Why don’t you tell them?” There was a silence there. We listen in coaching. It’s a clarifying moment. He says, “I can’t tell them I have weaknesses.” Another silence. I said, “You don’t think they already know?” Next week, he said, “I told them. They all stepped up and said they wanted to help.”

Joel, we have some audience members who may have some good questions and comments. Would you like to hear from them?

Joel: Absolutely.

Hugh: All right. Mr. Rash in Bedford, Virginia down the road from us. Have you got some thoughts to share?

J.E. Rash: Joel, thank you very much. There is a good echo chamber when you hear your highest ideals and hopes repeated by someone with such good articulation and intelligence and ability to focus the responses in such a beautiful way. I just want to thank you very much. We have been working in the area where the inner and outer meet for 40 years in our organization called Legacy International. You articulate so beautifully my own personal commitments, hopes, and ideals. I come out of a similar background with you in terms of the ‘60s, perhaps similar. What woke me up was the depth and values and commitments of Dr. King and others who I had the honor to march with. Also, the understanding of what it meant to be transparent in my travels around the world.

What we have in our organization, I have three nonprofits, one of which is a “spiritually-based organization.” One is a secular organization. I have always begun with the youngest and worked as far as the oldest, which I am now one of. I chose a form of education early on that was Montessori-based for a lot of things you articulated today, which I won’t go into because they are parallel. We do work all over the world by the way with youth ranging up to the 40s and individuals and organizations. A lot of work we do for the Department of State.

The reason I am telling you that is I want to explain that I believe in this arc of learning. Seek out knowledge from the cradle to the grave, the Prophet Muhammad said. That’s what I believe in. Talk to me about youth and universal principles and universal values. What are your thoughts on approaching youth? We have a school that goes from preschool through high school. We work with young college individuals. We work with graduates. We work with post-graduates. We work with young entrepreneurs all over the world. I see there is this arc of values that our organizations are based on, what we call universal values. I liked your differentiation between values and principles. That is my question. Talk to me about youth.

Joel: The youth, like with adults, they can only take people where they want to go. Where do they want to go? What are their aspirations? Not what I know they need to go or do. They’re not there yet. When older people like us are talking to younger folks, we think we are giving them wisdom. They don’t have shelves to put it on now; it’s just rhetoric. Ask youth, “What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to do?” When I was teaching college, I used to ask all of my international students, “In your country, do you have this vow of greatness?” “What?” “When I grow up, I am going to be this.” Oh, yeah. Okay.

When I am talking to a young person or an older person, I tap into their imagination. When people talk from their deprivation or lack of need and a devastation and a destruction and a deficit, you reinforce a sense of weakness and victimization. When I come to you with your aspiration, and I tap into your imagination, now I have got you being forward-thinking. Now I understand where you want to go, so I can bring in my program, processes, and principles to support you in your pursuit and not be in such a hurry to get them up the arc. You see? It’s always the aspiration. What is it that moves a person? That means asking questions and shutting up and not being prescriptive too prematurely. That is the short answer of how you reach youth and adults. It’s the same thing.

J.E.: I agree with you. That really does work. It’s something you have to remind yourself of all the time. You have so much experience and knowledge that you think you’re going to impart to others. But truly, this is exactly the path. As in any path, you have to keep reminding yourself how to stay in the middle of it instead of allowing yourself to drift off of it. Thank you for your beautiful answer.

Joel: Thank you for your question.

Hugh: Don’t drive up the mountains because you’re liable to tumble down the hill. Preach it, brother. Mr. Rash and I are connected in many ways, but through our common love of excellent coffee. Another thought leader, we go to Dallas, Texas. In a little over a year, Bob Hopkins has taught me about philanthropy.

Joel: I have his book. I am in the process of going through it now.

Hugh: You have seen Bob on C-Suite. He is a true educator. He challenges his students to think. He has done many things in his life, but he has inspired young leaders. I don’t think he has ever told me this, but I know Bob doesn’t consider them the future of leadership. He considers them the current leaders in society. Many times we have been together with the kids and their parents, and the parents have learned from their kids because Bob has inspired them. Bob, do you have a comment or question for our guest today?

Bob Hopkins: I do. I’m glad to be here, Joel. Nice to see you again.

Joel: Good to see you, Bob.

Bob: I am looking forward to having a one-on-one with you because you have so much to think about and say. Anyway, are all of your mentors dead, or do you have any alive ones that I could go to and listen to that you go to and listen to that know more than you and me and Hugh? I know it’s impossible to know more than Hugh.

Joel: That’s a tall order. Hugh is an archive of wisdom and imagination and facts. Here is how I look at mentorship. Mentorship to me is a posture. If I am in a store buying a Coke, and the person in front of me is having a conversation about something with the cashier, I am listening because I am going to learn something. It is an orientation I take. A mentor is somebody that you live with. The old man in the Odyssey moved in with the guy’s son. Telemachus taught him.

I have a mentor down in Greensboro. One of the most gifted pastors and men I have ever met in my entire life. I met him when I was 26 years old. He told me at 26 when I was lost and confused everything I am doing today. That was 34 years ago. That is one of my living mentors.

Everybody else, if I hear a book, I was in an organization the other day. I went to get a guy’s tea for him, and I saw a book on his desk by Adam Grant. I said, “How do you like that book?” He said, “I just read the first page. It looks like it’s good.” I went and ordered the book because it spoke to me.

Mentorship is an orientation that you take toward life. When you do it that way, everywhere you go, the world becomes a schoolroom. Realistically, most of the people I learn from are people in books, way back in history. I look at the values that are still valid today. What I do is take what they have written and make it contemporary for this reality and my personality. That’s a short answer.

My mentor is a guy named Wayne Clap. He has evolved in areas that people don’t understand, but he is very expansive.

Hugh: Thank you, Bob. Bob always has good questions. AJ Goodwin is here from San Diego. AJ, do you have a comment or question?

AJ Goodwin: Good morning. Thank you so much, Joel. What an inspiration to have you with us today. One question is we are a young nonprofit with a legacy of music, literary, and art. How does a new nonprofit raise its first monies or be funded to maintain its new ecosystem?

Joel: You have to get online and do online performances, online fundraisers. The thing is you have to identify your community. Then you have to put out content. We are competing for people’s attention and their intention. People say attention is the new currency. No, it’s intention. If you get my attention, and your intention does not match my values, it’s just entertainment, and I am gone.

When you tell me the stories of youths whose lives are being changed, I was on a call a few weeks ago with Hugh and this young lady is part of a musical group that Alice Cooper the rock singer started. She told a bit of a story. She shared her talent. She offered her service. That made people want to support that organization. They had a lot of funding, but you can never have too much funding.

How are you reaching out? Let me say this. It doesn’t matter what you are new or old. You may not have the head start if you’re new, but you’re fresh. You understand a new millennial mindset. If I had an artistic group, I would be doing live performances, Facebook lives, funny TikToks.

Here’s the deal. Don’t always be advocating for your cause. Provide value. I read a story by a Russian lady who was homeless living in the subway in New York. She moved from Russia and went through hard times, so she was homeless. A cop heard her singing opera. He took a video of her on his phone and put it on YouTube. It went viral. I gave money three times. I don’t even know this woman. I just went, “Wow.” I support dreamers because I’m a dreamer.

Don’t always be advocating for your cause. Provide value. When you provide sustained value, and you keep showing up, the other thing is you have to earn credibility. In this climate, everybody is starting everything. For example, on LinkedIn, I saw someone offer a service, so I reached out for a service. I asked her some information. The person’s advertisement was bigger than their ability to meet my need. They are trying to explore a climate where everybody is looking for the next thing. Provide value. Be consistent. Don’t always advocate for your cause. You will grow organically. The other piece is people want to correct overnight things that occur over time. Be content to grow organically. Sorry, Hugh!

Hugh: That’s fine. I love hearing you put things in such profound terms. Thank you, AJ, for being here.

Joel, we are coming up on the last few minutes here. The question I didn’t ask yet, but you have talked a little bit about it before. You thought COVID was an opportunity to do things and think differently. Some people see it as a hindrance. We are not going back to what we used to call normal, which was anything but. We won’t have a new normal. We are not going to pivot. It’s being fresh. It’s a fresh start. Any wisdom for people rethinking leadership in this new era?

Joel: Don’t look for answers. Don’t seek solutions. Just have approaches. When you look for an answer, you sometimes don’t take advantage of the immediate because you are looking for the ultimate. When you are looking for solutions, sometimes you delay actions. Begin to change how we approach things. I am not looking for an answer to my problems. I am not even looking for a solution. I am looking for an approach that I can apply right now in this moment that may have short-term benefit but long-term value. You want short-term benefit but long-term value.

Sometimes you have to redefine your metrics. Yes, you have to have money and support. But what you have to have is optimism and belief that you can play the long game. A lot of people are playing the short game. The short game will play you out of relevance. One thing about today is people need to know that they can trust you, that you will be there tomorrow. The average nonprofit fades out after about 10 years. If they make it past the 10-year mark, they are doing well.

Approach is not answers, not solutions. Approach is flexible. You have to apply it. When you are in school, if you don’t get the answer the same way the teacher showed you on the board, she is going to force you to get that stupid formula. I got the answer! My approach was different. What is more important? Redefining how you define your reality.

Hugh: Yes! I got to rest up from this interview. There was a lot of profound things. What thought or challenge or quote do you want to leave in people’s minds today?

Joel: Believe in your capacity for immensity. You can do more. You can be more. More importantly, you can take more. Don’t allow the negative noise to become your soundtrack. Too many people have been inundated with the negativity of COVID. You have to guard this little thing on your shoulders. Make sure you are practicing radical, which means root, optimism by believing in your ability to overcome whatever you’re facing.

Hugh: Wow. That requires a big amen. Joel Bryant, author of The New Being, you have been an amazing guest today and have given us a lot to think about. Thank you for being here today.

Joel: Thank you for having me, Hugh. I appreciate it.

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