Street Smart Leadership

On June 20, 1954, Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the United States, Rocky Marciano was Heavyweight Champion of the world, Elvis Presley was two years away from introducing Rock and Roll to the world as we know it today and this little boy I know was introduced to street life as a five year old newspaper boy in the small desert rural town of Imperial Valley, in El Centro, California. In those days Newspapers sold for seven cents, this newspaper boy’s clients were: a judge, owner of a car lot Womack & Mitchell, owner of a restaurant and a forensic criminologist not including the bars he was allowed to sell newspapers in and the countless drifters that came and went.

As a first generation American (of Mexican decent); one of nine in the family, this young lad’s family were Migrant Farm workers; migrating throughout the State of California. Neither being a Migrant Farm worker nor being a newspaper boy was an easy life. While selling newspapers the young lad was robbed, attempted to have his hair burnt if I did not hand over his money and fought his way; away from a pedophile. His leadership skills kick-in when he got together with other newspaper boys who were his friends; they gathered some rocks waited for the pedophile and took care of him. Then, the young lad found his 15 year old brother and his brother’s friend (who was a pretty rough guy) and they too took care of the pedophile; and the pedophile was never seen again.

The skills of intuition, observation and communications are critical in the street world. If one is meek, reserve and appears na├»ve and innocent you will get run over in the streets. One has to be assertive, confident and fully know your surroundings. You really have to know the lay of land. You need to know the ins and outs of the community and know the community to survive in the streets; if you don’t you will get trampled on. Once a college professor friend of the young lad wrote on a letter of support about him that one of the special characteristics this young lad was gifted with; is that he is Street Smart and at first, quite honestly, this young man took it as an insult, but you see the college professor was ahead of his time and he knew what he was talking about and understood the value of the young man’s street experiences in an organizational setting.

The important message of this article is to know that you have to go beyond being book smart you have to be people smart. You need to know your surroundings in the office, around the office and outside the office. You need to know when to retreat and when to approach. You need to be able to display certainty of your knowledge in your environment. And remember many of our greatest leaders were street smart before they became book smart. By the way, that young lad I am referring to in this article is me.