Honoring our Tribal “Elders”

I’ve been thinking about culture incessantly as I have been getting situated in my new role as the site director at the BUILD Peninsula site.

The timing could not have been more appropriate. Over the last three years I’ve spent my summers designing and executing summer business boot camps for our sophomores and juniors with the goal of inculcating them to what I called the “Incubator culture.” Now as the site director, I have the distinct opportunity to extend that inculcation to my staff, so that our entire site–students, paid staff, volunteer mentors, and visitors–can tangibly feel our culture when they walk through our front door.

On a very basic level, the culture of our site mirrors that of a tribe. Yes, I’m talking about “tribe” as in a group of people who share a common ancestry, or a clan forming a close-knit community under a defined leader, chief, or ruling council. When you hear “tribe,” visions of Native Americans traveling together in a banded group under a chief leader probably come to mind. Well, if you think about it, this is where humanity stems from. Humans (homo sapiens) have been around for 250,000 years, and our species only really began to flourish when early humans learned to band together in tribes for survival. Embedded deep in our ancestral roots, we all come from tribes, and, in contrast, the notion of the “modern civilization” has only been around for the last couple of millenia.

As humans entered the era of modernity after the industrial revolution, and more and more people populated large urban areas, tribal elements became an antiquated idea of the past. But did they disappear? I think they were just translated into modern versions of what we call organizational culture. The four basic elements of this culture are simply rules, rewards, routines, and rituals. These four R’s can be found scattered all over the place in our homes, at our schools, our corporations, places of worship, and even our media.

At today’s E2 Boot Camp, we practiced a ritual, which we had never done before, and it all started with a hunch. Tribes honor their wise elders and ancestors–think back to Native Americans and their beliefs in ancestral spirits and the leadership of their chieftans. In modern translation, corporations do the same exact thing. Instead of invoking ancestral spirits, founders and corporate leaders (presidents, CEO’s) act as the organization’s wise elders and ancestors. Have you wondered why you can usually find a picture of their revered founder smack dab in the middle of a corporate lobby?

In translation to our youth-serving organization, there’s a lot of value for our students to have that same tribal sense of leadership and respect for their elders. At BUILD today, our “elder” is our young Founder and CEO Suzanne. She stopped by our Boot Camp to formally welcome our students into our Incubator program and to answer their questions about our organization’s future. What Suzanne didn’t know was that the students had planned to honor her for all of her hard work, and you can watch a snippet of our “ritual” in the youtube video below or at this link.

In fact the entire four-day Business Boot Camp for our sophomores is one big ritual to prepare them for the rigor and routines during the school year. And hopefully the addition of this new ritual of honoring our leaders can become a staple in our culture.

What rituals do your organizations perform, practice, or celebrate?

And as for the rest of the “R’s,” I’ll keep the conversation going on as culture seems to be the hot topic right now. Stay tuned.

12: The Elements of Great Managing

This summer I’m transitioning into the site director role at BUILD after three years of proudly serving as the incubator manager. Yes, I’ve known for a while, and we have been making announcements here and there in the BUILD community (during our after-school incubator sessions and a big announcement during the Business Plan Competition back in May), and I suppose now is as good of a time as any to make a general announcement about it. Indeed it is a promotion, and one that I am extremely excited about because not only will it be a huge opportunity of personal growth and professional development, but I get to do it in an organization I love, with a team a really care about, and with a mission that I value.

After speaking with our management consultant, Linda, I realize that one of my biggest hurdles will be shifting from the role of individual contributor to that of a manager / leader. Coincidentally, tomorrow is my final year-end performance review in my role as the incubator manager, and it is so neat to reflect back on my value-add as an individual contributor. I will never forget the trials and tribulations of creating and implementing my first Business Boot Camp (and only now am I truly seeing it objectively… yes, after two years, thanks to Karla‘s Results-Process-Relationships triangle), the collaboration with Randy and Adriana on “The Bridge” (one of my proudest accomplishments), and the painstaking task of creating an expansion manual for my programs (don’t get me wrong, I love creating processes, but somehow I really just love to keep them in my head, so this was a good project). Through it all, I’ve been stretched, stripped, and developed, but now it’s time to move on. Just like our students move from one phase of our programs to another, so too will I move, and entrust our excellent site program assistant, Amber, to innovate and improve the program in my place as the new incubator manager.

Oh, and I also wanted to add a book to my booklist, and it is somewhat related to my transition into my new management role: 12: The Elements of Great Managing.

by Rodd Wagner & James K. Harter, Ph.D.

The book shows the importance of employee engagement through several real-life business accounts (a la any other business-y book out there), and argues that you can manage people successfully if you implement these twelve essential elements:

  1. Knowing what’s expected
  2. Materials and equipment
  3. The opportunity to do what I do best
  4. Recognition and praise
  5. Someone at work cares about me as a person
  6. Someone at work encourages my development
  7. My opinion seems to count
  8. A connection with the mission of the company
  9. Coworkers committed to doing quality work
  10. A best friend at work
  11. Talking about progress
  12. Opportunities to learn and grow

Some of them are kind of, duh, obvious, like “materials and equipment” (who doesn’t need a computer, desk and chair these days?), but I thought some of the more interesting chapters were regarding the “best friend at work.”

Something about a deep sense of affiliation with the people in an employee’s team drives him to do positive things for the business he otherwise would not do. Early research that identified the 12 Elements revealed a very different social bond among employees in top performing teams. Sebsequent large-scale, multi-company analyses confirmed the 10th Element is a scientifically salient ingredient in obtaining a number of business-relevant outcomes, including profitability, safety, inventory, and — most notably — the emotional connection and loyalty of customers to the organization serving them. (page 140)

In short, friends watch each others’ backs. And having that culture is invaluable because not only is it good for individual and team morale, but your constituents (or customers) can feel and see it as well… And with the staff modeling it, they will then start to mimic it — e.g. If you are friends with your coworkers and show it at your youth-serving organization, your students will probably be more friendly with each other. Sounds easy enough, huh?

Maybe my first order of business as the site director with my team will be some forced bonding time. 😉

Read on for more quotes from the book:

Continue reading 12: The Elements of Great Managing

Upcoming: Elaborate tour of the South and East Coast

I’m really looking forward to a crazy, fun, and travel-filled summer filled with multiple trips to the South, a quick visit to NYC, and a full-circle trip to USC to facilitate a workshop with Karla at our alma mater. I signed up for this new Twitter-like social-networking site called Dopplr, which touts itself as an online tool for frequent travelers. Anyway, if you’re on it, add me, and I’ll see about posting my Dopplr badge on my website (I’ve added the application to my Facebook already, but we’ll see how long it stays on there). It’s a good way to keep track of where I am at any given moment, and to see if there are any locational overlaps between you and your friends (Oh, you’re going to New York then, too? Let’s meet up at Hiro on Sunday!).

Till then, you can see what I’ll be doing / going in the next few months in the table below:

EOY Beach Party with Incubator students in Santa Cruz, CA
June 9
Going to the beach with 50 students… for work! I love this job.
BUILD E2 Orientation
June 10
At the office
Karla in SF
June 11
BUILD Mentor Appreciation Night
June 12
At the office
BUILD Staff Strategy Retreat at the Headlands Institute in Sausalito
June 23 to 25
College Summit workshop at USC, Los Angeles, CA June 25 to 30 Facilitating a College Summit workshop at USC with Karla.

I’ll have a free night on Sunday, June 29!

College Summit workshop at UNC-Asheville, Asheville, NC July 2 to 6 Facilitating another College Summit workshop at UNC Asheville with Zenia. Never been to North Carolina, but have heard that it’s beautiful.
Quick Vacation in New York, NY  July 6 to 11 Visiting Tony in New York. Finally a vacation!
International GALA Chorus Festival in Miami, FL July 11 to 20 Performing with SFGMC and lounging at the beach, I assume. Bring on the sun!
Back to SF July 20
Back to the city after 3.5 weeks of jetsetting.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank College Summit, and particularly Oudete, for rocking out and allowing me the immense privilege and opportunity to be a Rap Director at USC and UNC Asheville. I can’t wait!

An Invitation to Two Spring Events!

Dear Friends,
Hi, how are you? Oh, you’re doing well? That’s great. 😉 Me? Oh, busy as usual. You know, work, singing, traveling, eating, etc. Thanks for asking. Oh, you haven’t seen me in a while? Yea, I know. Apologies! May’s going to be a really event-packed month for me, too, so we’ll just have to play it by ear. I want to see you though!

On that note, I wanted to invite you to 2 of my bigger events this month:

Continue reading An Invitation to Two Spring Events!

Check out one of my students in the Palo Alto Daily

Gilberto Soria, senior, was recently profiled in the Palo Alto Daily. Click here for the link to the article about Gilberto. It’ll give you a small taste of the students I work with at BUILD… And I know if Gilberto read this post, his ego would be inflated even more, but nonetheless, I”m pretty proud of him.

Fourteen acceptance letters later, Soria’s mind is running wild: the University of California at Los Angeles, or Berkeley – or maybe a chilly stretch in New England at Northeastern University, which has offered Soria a full ride scholarship.

Check out the rest of the article after the jump… Continue reading Check out one of my students in the Palo Alto Daily

The Eye of the Storm

Thursday night at BUILD’s Youth Business Incubator felt like a little snapshot of life at our little growing operation. It felt all at once like a blur. Like it could have all passed by if you shut your eyes for a moment. It went by fast, like a cyclone, and I still can’t believe that we managed to pull it all off. The following insane things were going on in one evening:

I was facilitating the first session of The Bridge, which is the program that I created in collaboration with a few other colleagues about a year ago. The aim of The Bridge is to connect concepts in both business and academics so that our students can create a toolkit of resources in preparation for and to take ownership of the college application process. Basically, they are taking the entrepreneurial lessons learned from running their businesses and transferring that knowledge to their personal lives. In my honest opinion, it is the most important work that I’ve created in my time at BUILD and think it will impact a lot of our students’ lives. The first session is quite possibly the most pivotal session because I facilitate a discussion that sets the tone for the entire 12 weeks of the program. It was important to have all students in attendance and attentive.

So here I was with my dozen or so juniors in the common room. Our semi-circle formation of chairs was facing the windows so as to minimize as much of the foot traffic that usually runs across the common room area. I knew that the evening would be full of distractions, but I really did not anticipate that there would be so many. Continue reading The Eye of the Storm


BUILD at Local College Tour - CSU Stanislaus

There is so much to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving weekend. On Monday night as I was getting ready to leave BUILD, I felt so much love and gratitude for getting to and being blessed to work with my students at BUILD. Above is a picture of our insane college tour last weekend. This year’s trip was different from all of the ones that I’ve taken before–maybe it’s signaling a time for change. Either way, I’m so blessed for being able to affect and be a positive force in the evolvement of my students.

Excel. Cry. Dance.

BUILD’s tagline is “Excel. Lead. Succeed.” but tonight it was more like “Excel. Cry. Dance.

Today was BUILD’s End of the Year Celebration. We first took the freshmen on an all-day field trip to see two colleges: San Jose State and Menlo College (from 9 am to 4:30 pm).

And then in the evening, all of the BUILD students gathered at the brand new East Palo Alto YMCA for a dance. My Incubator students were also going to have an Incubator Closing Ceremony in conjunction to this dance. This was the “second annual” Closing Ceremony, meaning that last year, the event was my little brainchild, and this year, I tried to make the students take ownership of the event so that others would follow suit. I organized our leadership team to take responsibility for some of the logistics: decorations, marketing, gifts, and MC-ing the event. It worked beautifully. Our two co-MC’s for the evening did such a wonderful job, our student speakers made people cry, and the awards hopefully motivated the students to do better. I can’t really sum up how I feel about what happened tonight, but I will say that I am relieved, satisfied and happy. Tonight when the students and mentors were thanking each other in our closing circle and when our students were giving their speeches, it really rejuvenated me and reminded me why I am doing the work that I am doing.

Recently I have been getting so tired and frustrated and being so extremely tired all of the time. April and May have been outrageously busy months because of the traveling (San Diego, Las Vegas, Boston, DC, Tracy, etc.), my relatives from the Philippines visiting for a month and a half, and just a lot more work to be done in BUILD. Over the past few weeks I kind of resigned myself to being really tired and bleh, and have been waiting for this month to be over. But I realize that I just needed a pick-me-up, a reminder, a hug and some validation for what I am doing. And in some senses, maybe I subconsciously planned this end of the year celebration so I could get that, so that other staff could get it, mentors could get it, and, of course, students could get it.

Well, I hope everyone got it because if they didn’t get it after tonight’s event, I do not know what else to do with them.

The most rewarding and taxing BUILD night

Tonight I facilitated a session with all of my juniors where they each (and all) shared their personal stories. They had been working on their personal stories as precursors to their personal statements for college applications. I kind of did not know what to expect from the evening, but I knew that I wanted it to be empowering–for them to see their strengths in each other, the beautiful and unique stories they each have, and the courageous support system that surrounds them.

Tonight was also the culmination of “The Bridge,” which is a program that I co-created to help bridge the priceless business lessons that they were learning with much-needed applications into their personal lives as well as the rigorous college application process. The 11-week “Bridge” ended tonight with each junior subsequently opening up and sharing their authentic and unique stories.

Some were tragic. Some were funny. And others were insightful and artistically written. They all grabbed my heart.

Each word spoke of courage, resilience, and strength, no matter if the story was about the trials of crossing the Rio Grande, the wonders of finding your own voice, or the dread of fearing abuse or discrimination.

Each progressive word tugged on my heartstrings, beckoning my eyes to let go of the well of tears that my eyelids had dammed. Each volunteering story showed me the depth and the strength of the students that I have been working with for the past two years. Tonight I feel like I did two years of work in less than two hours.

At the end of the night, one of my historically unruly students chose to speak and acknowledge her fellow students, unrehearsed. She had, in the past, been one of the most difficult students to try to crack and understand, but tonight she experienced some sort of growth, and maturely acknowledged her fellow students and thereby validated the entire 11-week process and all of the literal blood, sweat, and tears I had put into it to make it happen.

But alas, this is not about me. It’s about them. We all have our stories–our own unique, authentic, and beautiful stories. Sometimes I wish adults had to apply to more things JUST SO they would have to write another personal statement. The process is so reflective and healing at the same time. I hope this process will help to heal some of my students’ wounds. From the looks of it tonight, they will all help each other heal from their wounds. Lord knows they’re helping to heal mine.

I never want to let that happen again

Last week I literally put my whole entire life on hold for work. I somehow got it in my head that my program would not work unless I devoted my whole entire week to it, night and day.

What a mistake.

But to my own credit, I didn’t have a choice. It was either let the program suffer or do the work necessary to make it work out. I chose the latter because I am dedicated to my students and my only reason for being at this organization is for the students.

However, recently I have been confronted with a new concept: work/life balance. I don’t really understand what this means, but slowly, since some of my coworkers are all about it, I am learning more about it. See, I come from a working culture where everyone works 100% all the time to accomplish a goal no matter what the price, and on top of that people were not paid, it was all volunteer. And now I am getting paid for doing what I love to do, and although it is pretty much in the same vein of what I have done before, it is different because I have to take staff work/life balance into consideration.

And to top it all off, I have to take my own personal work/life balance into consideration. Being surrounded by libras (my parents, Jo, Jed), I know all about balance, but need help in achieving it.

This was my last 2 weeks:

8/7-8 – 2 days of Business Boot Camp for our juniors
8/9 – 1 day of working on logistics for the week after
8/10-13 – off to 4 days of College Summit (days that started at 7 am and ended at 2 am)
8/14 – right after that I had a training day for our Executive Leadership Circle
8/14-18 – followed by 4 days of Business Boot Camp for our sophomores.

My last 5 days started at 6 am and ended at midnight. I was on all day long with no breaks, barely any time to eat because I was supervising 45 students every minute with barely any help. When I got home, all I wanted to do was vegg, but I had to prepare for the next day or the day after that.

What suffered:

I didn’t get to go to the gym at all
I was eating horrible food
I wasn’t replying to work or personal email
I was barely replying to phone calls
I came home every day emotionally drained
I came home defeated after listening to staffmembers give feedback about how to do it better (and all I could hear was “This sucked,” “It was bad, this is how you can do it better,” etc.)
I broke down, not once, not twice, but yes, three times

This is the first time in a whole year that I’ve ever felt like I couldn’t do this job, and that’s not right, especially since 11 out of the 12 months that I have worked there, I have rocked at it (to put it humbly).

Moral of the story: It’s OK to love your job (because I still do love my job). But when your job and you start to have a codependent and hurtful relationship, it’s time to change something up.

So I’m going to change it up a bit. How? I don’t know yet. But I will.