Mayor Aja Brown
Mayor Aja Brown

Above the Forms: 5 Principles I Learned From the Mayor of Compton

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We are all focused on solving big problems: customer problems, partner problems and employee problems. Last week, I sat down with Aja Brown, the mayor of Compton, Calif. What I learned inspired me and has practical applications … from the board room to the accounting firm.

As the youngest mayor of Compton when she was elected at the ripe old age of 31, Brown inherited a plethora of problems, including a city with a negative reputation, sky-high unemployment, a high homicide rate, gang activity and human trafficking. The list goes on. And, for resources to help address these problems? There were only two employees in the office of the mayor – and she was one of them.

Brown had a large task in front of her, and she had to build credibility at the same time. Her journey required courage, the passion to be a change agent and the tenacity to see it through. She recognized that she could not do this alone, and focused on innovation and strategic partnerships to turn her city around. Here are her five guiding principles:

  1. Embrace conflict: Conflict can make you bitter or it can make you better – it’s your choice. Obstacles, setbacks and even defeats are designed to build our character. Learn your lesson and grow from it. It will make you sharper, more resilient and more tenacious, and when kept in perspective, will produce patience, wisdom and understanding.
  2. Set a bold mission: Set for yourself a challenge that is too big to fail, yet too important to not succeed – but don’t try to go it alone. Have an open mindset to embrace outside help, lean into partners and deliver success together.
  3. Mind your mind: Be deliberate on where your mind spends time. Optimism breeds optimism. Trust breeds trust. Believing in others will usually pay off. Negative energy never has a good outcome. Your team will have whatever “mind” you have.
  4. Connect with your team: You are not what matters in your organization – it is the impact you have with your team. Know your team personally and professionally. Lead with heart and love your employees; they will know it. Transformational leaders take up less air. Instead, they are the opposite – they create air.  Build a legacy that enables those who follow you to do more than you could have ever done. Enable them to be great and celebrate their greatness.
  5. Be intentional: Visions don’t get results … effort does. Be purposeful in where you spend your time. Eliminate redundancy in effort and bureaucracy. Every minute of every day counts, so don’t waste any of it. Have a plan, and always know where you are and if the time you are investing today is moving you toward that plan. 

Her story humbled me and inspired me to think of what may be possible with the right mindset and the balance of minds and hearts. We can all learn from and apply her lessons.

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