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Helping the next generation of leaders succeed: Ron Soeder

Guest columnist Ron Soeder is a widely respected community leader and has proven effective in leading successful youth programs. As director of the telos leadership foundation, Ron leads the team to deliver unique leadership development experiences for underserved youth.

Throughout my life, I’ve had the privilege of mentoring thousands of kids. While I saw the potential and strengths of so many of these individuals, it saddened me that they didn’t always see the same things in themselves.

Take Lexus. When I met her, she was a smart and talented 14-year-old with low self-esteem, who spent a lot of time on her phone and fretted that she would never get out of the impoverished and violent Cleveland neighborhood she lived in.

I believed otherwise. She needed a connection and some training to get ahead. She just didn’t know where to get it.

When I served as the executive director of Boys & Girls Club of Northeast Ohio, we did a great job of providing resources and support to individuals while they were in school. But to get to the next stage, they needed one more pulley.

That’s why I was so excited to connect with the telos institute, a Northeast Ohio-based global organizational development firm, to provide free transformational leadership development for disadvantaged emerging leaders.

At the telos leadership foundation, we take many of the same principles and tenets telos uses for coaching its global clients and bring wisdom and attention to under-served individuals.

It works. For instance, once I helped Lexus get connected with the admissions director of a local college, she was able to suddenly visualize a new life.

She is now an addiction counselor, with a flourishing side cleaning business, who helps mentor others. I had the privilege of walking her down the aisle when she got married recently.

Here are three of the top lessons we’ve given to help our scholars succeed:

Get grounded by taking technology breaks.

Daily situations cause minds to race a mile a minute. Oftentimes, Generation Z-ers, who were raised on smartphones, turn to electronic devices for comfort and connection. But you can’t slow your brain down if you’re always looking at your phone. It’s so important to take phone breaks. When I take people out for meals, for instance, I declare the table to be a technology-free zone. That forces everyone to concentrate on each other’s words and the food, not on what’s happening on TikTok. Immersing yourself in nature is also important as a way of connection outside of phones.

Be bold and take the next leap. It’s easy to stay in places that feel comfortable, even if these locations or jobs aren’t great for mental health or growth. Success happens when you are able to jump off that trapeze platform. But that place in the air — when you let go — is what we call liminal space, the place where growth occurs. To help make sure individuals land successfully, they need to have people to connect with on the other side. At telos, we teach emerging leaders how to network. If someone wants to be a lawyer, we teach them how to research firms and how to write query letters to get informational interviews. And we also make introductions ourselves. One of the greatest gifts you can give is an email introduction to someone they wouldn’t have come across on their own.

Listen intently. The easiest way to fail in a relationship is to make assumptions about someone before you know their story. Everyone needs to be heard and understood. It goes both ways — young adults need to learn how to ask good questions about the careers they want to be in and the paths needed to get there.

And those who are hiring, or helping, also need to listen closely to goals and backgrounds. For example, when I learned that one of our fellows loves baseball and is from Southern California and Mexico, I helped get her tickets to a San Diego Padres baseball game.

When she saw that I had made that effort, based on something she had told me about herself, it helped to build trust — the ultimate key to lasting change.

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