Chad West: Activating an Historical and Diverse Community and Staying Accessible

Chad West:  Activating an Historical and Diverse Community and Staying Accessible

Dallas City Council Member Chad West shares his vision, the importance of accessibility, community engagement and creating a sense of place.

Season 1   |   Episode 3  |   August 1, 2019

Show Notes

Citizenship is a chance to make a difference in the place where you belong. 

Charles Handy

First a look behind the curtain.  I had the chance to see Chad West in action when our technology broke down and his tech-support partner had to switch out his laptop.  A half-hour ticked away, and I was getting antsy about having enough time for a meaningful interview.

This breakdown afforded me the gift of eavesdropping on Chad as he continued to work calmly with his assistant in the background, answering a few questions and ultimately delaying his next meeting so that we had enough time for the interview.

Chad had previously shared with me that he is a stickler about keeping commitments.  Integrity is high on his list of virtues.  I witnessed him walking his talk while also staying kind and generous with employees.  This recollection reassures me that we elected the right person for Oak Cliff and for Dallas.

I’ve included Notes from our conversation as well as Reflections + Practical  Applications, below.

Conversation Notes

First Impressions and Accessibility

  • Accessibility to constituents and clients is important to Chad and is expected for a City Council Member (CM). I experienced that firsthand when he personally answered my call and accepted the podcast interview invitation without a previous introduction.
  • To balance his extreme availability, he’s sure to bake downtime into the end of his day for reading or other solitary activities.

 Balancing the Whole and Parts

  • I wondered about competing commitments between District 1 (D-1, our district) and the City’s vision and goals. (There is a natural and constant flow of attention and resources to various elements of any healthy system or organization – just look in nature!)
    • A CM has to stay connected with what the voters want and move the city ball forward.
    • Unique challenges of D1: we’re one of the oldest neighborhoods in Dallas with the original street grid, old infrastructure and tons of new development.
  • Importance of public engagement:
    • Chad’s goal is to make sure people understand the issues, agendas, and plans by communicating in eye-catching ways, i.e. graphs, pictures, maps.
    • On the flip-side, neighborhood feedback is very important when trying to encourage developers to include pedestrian & neighborhood-friendly elements in their projects.
    • The CM has a more powerful influence with developers and at City Hall if citizens are engaged and vocal at meetings.
    • Engagement also poses challenges. People will question Chad, and rightly so.  While this creates more work, lack of engagement causes a neighborhood to lose its character.
    • Chad is working to build trust in lower-engagement neighborhoods by attending non-city events and getting to know the neighbors so that they, too, are able to influence their future.
  • Building relationships and trust with other Council Members is super important for moving both the city and individual districts forward.
    • Chad expects to visit other CM districts and learn about their vision and challenges
    • He will invite other CMs to visit D-1 to experience ours

Holding the Vision and Integrating Thought Leadership

  • Chad embodies the excitement of seeing 10 – 20 years of planning come to fruition in Oak Cliff and the Bishop Arts District.
  • Oak Cliff is a gem with 100-year-old street-car informed grids and adjacent neighborhoods. Bishop Arts is a great example.
    • In the plans: Oak Farms, a mixed-use development with workforce housing, market-rate housing, retail, and plazas.
    • Two major streets will be repurposed. The new streetcar between downtown Dallas and North Oak Cliff, pedestrians and bicycles will be routed to one street, with cars on the other. This will improve safety and accessibility.
  • D Magazine’s New Urbanism edition included an article by Oak Cliff resident and Urbanism expert, Patrick Kennedy: Bishop Arts Can Be a Model for Southern Dallas Development
    • We’re 10 years in with great success and a positive trajectory.
    • Extensive meetings with neighbors are ongoing regarding plans for their neighborhoods. They are almost unanimous about wanting to bring new life to old centers (formerly streetcar stops), but there is concern about parking, overflow, traffic and the intense usage experienced in Bishop Arts.
    • NIMBY – Not In My Backyard
    • Its critical to have good public input and dialogue with neighbors in the area.
    • Complete Streets
      • Urban design with a focus on the people who live in nearby neighborhoods rather than how to move traffic through quickly. The design includes commercial and retail on both sides, pedestrian and bike safety, traffic safety.
      • There’s a focus on preserving single-family neighborhoods; once you take them down you can never get them back.
    • More trail expansions are in the works, linking people with parks.
    • There’s an opportunity to develop the eastern section of D-1 with more corporations, bringing jobs to the area so that people don’t have to leave the area to go to work.
    • A strong sense of place is being ignited.


Reflections + Resources + Practical Applications

I’ve included notes that expand past the conversation with Chad.  The intent is to give you an opportunity to dig a bit deeper into your own way of relating and leading – at all levels.  Tools and articles are included to help you move from earphones to application.  

First Impressions, Accessibility and Limiting beliefs

  • What first impression do you make? Do people feel seen and heard when they walk away from their interaction with you?
  • I was reluctant to reach out to Chad because I thought he would decline or simply ignore my call due to his busy schedule and lack of relationship with me.
    • Where are you limiting yourself by not extending?
    • To whom do you need to extend?
    • What are you concerned will happen if you make contact and it is either not returned or rejected?
    • What is the consequence of remaining quiet?

Encouraging Engagement and Being Challenged

  • How are important decisions communicated in your organization? Are they interesting and clear so that employees and stakeholders understand the impact and action they need to take?
  • How do you skillfully engage your stakeholders when leading change? Can you tolerate being challenged?  Do you build in time for thoughtful input and are you open to changing direction based on this input? Do you expand engagement past the ‘usual suspects’ that typically agree with your opinion?
  • Speed and ease are often preferenced over stakeholder engagement. The sheer amount of current work, ‘incoming’, and shareholder and time pressure make thoughtful engagement difficult. Strategic prioritization of initiatives and tasks can help clarify and reduce noise.   Here are a couple of prioritization tools.
  • I was reminded of the Gallup 12 Employee Engagement Survey used in many organizations while Chad described the challenge and payoff of engaging neighborhoods. There seem to be several similarities between engaged employees and engaged citizens.  How is your organization assessing engagement?
  • I’m also reminded of my first interview with Jennifer Touchet and the importance of power mapping and neighborhood engagement.
  • As a stakeholder – citizen, voter, employee – how are you investing your time and energy to give input in ways that can positively influence an outcome (rather than staying on the sideline)?

Building Trust and Relationships

  • How often do you reach across the aisle or across the organization chart to truly understand your colleague’s world?  It’s likely that your work processes and products, whether it is financial, sales, operations, or HR, directly impacts them.  How often do you take a walk in their neighborhood?
  • The Trusted Advisor’s Trust Equation is a helpful way to consider trust and the components of trust. Here are links to an explanation of the Trust Equation and the Trust Equation itself.

Holding a Long-Term Vision

  • Notice the vision for District 1 has been unfolding for 10 – 20 year. The article, A Call for Long Term Capitalism is insightful and compels is to look past quarterly earnings and other short-term metrics.  We’re challenged to become ‘decaders’.
  • How do you and your organization stay committed and aligned to a long-term vision? What rhythms and structures have you created to support this vision?

After listening to the interview and reading the notes, I wonder what your takeaway is?

Thanks for tuning in, and I’d really love to hear from you!

Take good care,


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Visionary Leadership Keeps a 100-Year-Old Mission Relevant

Visionary Leadership Keeps a 100-Year-Old Mission Relevant


Jennifer Bartkowski, CEO of Girl Scouts Northeast TX

Innovation, strategic thinking, and execution are marks of Jennifer Bartkowski’s  leadership. She invests these talents as CEO of Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas (GSNETX), and in collaboration with strategic partners, is transforming the Girl Scout experience. Jennifer is committed to making Girl Scouting a path to success for all girls. Her passion and visionary leadership are changing the game for GSNETX.

Staying relevant in a constantly changing world is daunting. As organizations age, their appeal often grows stale and without significant revitalization, they risk demise. Jennifer is accomplishing what has eluded countless leaders: she is bringing new life to a century-old organization to meet the demands of contemporary challenges. And she’s doing it while staying true to the Girl Scout mission: To build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.

Building on the Mission

“We asked ourselves, What else can we do with this strong foundation?  Our answer: we can get girls excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). We can get them excited about financial literacy and how it makes more things possible as they grow up. We can teach them about healthy living and healthy relationships and other skills required to be healthy adults. We can teach them about the outdoors. It’s fresh and exciting!

“One of the challenges of Girl Scouting is that we’re 105 years old.  It’s a blessing and a curse.  People know us for cookies, camps and crafts.  We are all of these things and we’re proud of them.  And we’re so much more today – the organization has been going through a real transformation.

“For six weeks of the year, Girl Scouts is cookies.  Every single girl owns their own business where they develop important skills like decision-making, goal-setting, financial management, and business ethics.  This experience creates a powerful foundation to build on.

“We are also camp, which is so critically important today.  This generation of kids is the first to grow up almost entirely indoors.  We have a proven history of teaching leadership at camp better than anywhere else.  (Note:  Girl Scouts founder Juliet Gordon Low purchased land for camping before investing in a physical building.)

“And yes, we are crafts.  Girl Scouts has always been about fun and creativity and we intend to keep offering what the girls enjoy.

We are taking all that is foundational and setting it on its edge.”

Women, Technology and Girl Scouts

In 2010, Texas Instruments (TI), a Dallas-based global technology company, approached GSNETX, asking them to be a partner in solving a business challenge: A significant talent shortage in the fields of technology and engineering is predicted by the year 2020. Girls are less likely to go into technical fields and TI would like to change that. TI has long been committed to diversifying the workforce and has been a champion of developing and promoting women. TI imagined that Girl Scouts could offer years of positive STEM experience all the way through high school, shaping their desire to pursue STEM degrees in college. A K-12 STEM Engineering badge was the first accomplishment of the partnership.

Texas Instrument’s offer also fits with Girl Scouts’ commitment to the development of leadership skills in girls and young women. Their curriculum, driven by the earning of badges, provides experiences that develop confidence, critical-thinking, and problem-solving skills and encourages the pursuit of challenging goals.

The STEM Center of Excellence at Camp Whispering Cedars

The timing was auspicious. Alongside the initiative with TI, GSNETX was taking a strategic look at their physical properties. A decision was made to unite the new STEM initiative with an investment in Camp Whispering Cedars, a gorgeous property in southern Dallas. That is how the STEM Center of Excellence at Camp Whispering Cedars was conceived.

Jennifer’s visionary leadership and passion for girls energized a campaign that cast a wide net across the business, academic, cultural and philanthropic communities. She invited them all to take part in giving local girls from all walks of life fun, hands-on experiences with STEM. The community responded with a resounding YES!  A sample of collaborators joining TI in this innovate effort (so far): the University of Texas at Dallas, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, the Dallas Arboretum, and many very generous donors. Other business partnerships are emerging and they’re eager to make this vision a reality. (Read about Capital One’s boost!)

STEM Highlights at Camp Whispering Cedars:

  • The telescope-equipped Moody Observation Tower is a place for girls to get high above the trees to study astronomy and sleep under the stars. They will also experience themselves as part of something much bigger.
  • Girls will learn underwater robotics when they’re not swimming in the on-site swimming pool.
  • Rockets will be launched, archery skills honed, walls will be climbed and girls will zip-line above the largely un-groomed, wide-open spaces so many kids no longer have access to.
  • A GeoScouting app already guides girls on their hikes through the beautiful escarpment, learning about rocks, plants and the geologic formation of Camp Whispering Cedars.

A Virtuous Cycle

Jennifer, the GSNETX team and their award-winning Board of Directors have created a cycle of contribution and benefit that is acting as a flywheel, reinvigorating itself with each accomplishment.The obvious benefactors are the young women who will experience STEM in an environment that only Girl Scouts can provide: an outdoor, all-girl setting, infused with leadership and life skills. These young women will be primed to follow degree programs leading to a job market hungry for their capabilities.

Local tech businesses will enjoy an enlarged and diversified pool of female talent ready for work for the foreseeable future.

Enrollment in engineering and other STEM-related university programs will increase. The more girls who enter programs with a flourishing peer group, the more will persist and complete their STEM degrees.

The City of Dallas is also a significant benefactor, and Jennifer is “proud to be a part of Mayor Mike Rawling’s Grow South initiative. Girl Scouts is investing $13M in 92 acres of the most beautiful land in Dallas, and we’re happy to be a part of the city’s priorities.”

Also promising is the role Girl Scouts can play in positively impacting race relations. At camp and in many troops, girls are playing, sleeping and learning next to girls of racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds different from their own. Their parents are also interacting with each other for a common goal: to prepare their girls for a bright future.

Innovation in Girl Scouts Delivery: Making the Experience More Accessible

A limiting factor for the number of girls able to participate in Girl Scouting is the number of troop leader volunteers. GSNETX is experimenting with new ways of delivering Girl Scouting: “We’re piloting a partnership with a few DISD elementary schools and exploring possibilities with KIPP schools as well. We’re actually going in and helping the teachers understand the Girl Scouts leadership experience, and enabling them to deliver Girl Scouting to girls at their schools. Those girls are using our STEM Center as a field trip space and becoming Girl Scouts in the process”. Solar Prep, an all girl’s STEAM (A is for Arts!) school in southern Dallas is calling itself a Girl Scouts school. 100% of the students there are Girl Scouts. It’s a new model.

“Finally, we’re piloting a way to make the space available to girls and boys in schools in the southern sector of Dallas for field trips. These schools don’t typically have the revenue to send their students to expensive camps in East Texas. Camp Whispering Cedars is a short bus ride away which gives them access to a 21st century STEM Center and an incredible outdoor space.”

A CEO Exemplar

Jennifer speaks from experience about the impact of Girl Scouting:

“I was a Girl Scout myself through ninth grade and earned the Silver award. Girl Scouting is a long tradition in my family:  my three sisters and I were led by my mother and she was led by her mother.  My daughter is a Girl Scout and I volunteer with her troop. Through Girl Scouts, I got to try new things and have experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I was the oldest of five kids and we didn’t have a lot of money, so every winter I worked hard and sold cookies so I could go to camp for two weeks on my own. I got to be my own person and meet new friends. As I got older I went on destination trips and got to do really cool stuff.

“Between Girl Scouts and competitive swimming, I learned leadership, teamwork, time management and how to work hard and be competitive. Girl Scouts opened doors for me and I’m passionate about making sure that girls from all walks of life have access to the Girl Scout leadership experience and programming. It can be transformative.

“We’re all on a leadership journey: me, all of our staff, and of course the girls. My entire life and career have led me here, building the skills the organization needs now.  And I’m being challenged to develop new ones all the time!  I believe we are doing this work on purpose. We’re leaving a legacy for the future by building on an amazing foundation for Girl Scouts of the 21st Century and beyond.”

For Reflection:

  1. Is your mission clear enough to guide strategic decisions?
  2. How can your legacy products and services be delivered in new ways that fit the current environment?  Explore out-of-the-ordinary ways that your mission can be accomplished.  (GSNETX paired camping with STEM)
  3. Who are your stakeholders?  How can you partner with them for win-win outcomes? (Consider the innovative partnership between TI and GSNETX)
  4. Do you feel on purpose with your vocation? Are you passionate, engaged and creative in your thinking?


You Can’t Lead People You Don’t Love

You Can’t Lead People You Don’t Love

Lead with Love, Exemplary Leadership

Exemplary Leader Michael Sorrell

Profile of an Exemplary Leader: President Michael Sorrell of Paul Quinn College

A core intention of my business, Rise Leaders, is to promote individuals who are making a positive impact in the businesses and communities where they lead. They are taking a different path, coloring outside the lines and disrupting the norm. Michael Sorrell, President of Paul Quinn College, is an exemplar. Paul Quinn College (PQC) is a HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) located in Oak Cliff, a community in Dallas’ Southern Sector. The college was fighting for its life when he stepped in.

Leadership of the type written about here is uncommon and only for those willing to take a strong stand for what they believe in. President Sorrell demonstrates that it takes a galvanizing vision, a mission that won’t be compromised, a tireless work ethic and love for those being served to turn around a failing institution.

I had the opportunity to hear President Sorrell speak at a Sum + Substance gathering in Dallas early in the Fall of 2015 and knew I wanted him to be my first interview (See the Sum + Substance video here). I hope you enjoy and are inspired by what you read.

As background, President Sorrell had a few goals on his list as a young man. Not like most of our goals. His goals included public service as a mayor, owning an NBA franchise and becoming a college president.  We began our conversation with how becoming a college president arrived on his list in the first place. While attending Oberlin College in Ohio (where he had a very impressive basketball career), Sorrell had a serendipitous meeting with Dr. Johnetta Cole, who was then president of Spelman College. A seed was planted for his future; only he didn’t pursue the qualifications needed to realize that goal. He went on about his plans to become a lawyer, which he did. He said he figured he would get to be president by virtue of his other life’s accomplishments.

In response to his “plan” for becoming president, I jokingly commented that I heard he had admitted to being cocky. While he claims not to remember the admission (smirking), he did comment on his confidence, which comes from a strong work ethic. We’ll pick up the interview there.

Is the willingness to work hard an important leadership trait for you?

The key to my confidence is my work ethic. There is no problem you can give me that I won’t find a way through. I am willing to outwork anybody. This makes me supremely confident in my abilities.

People make excuses for why they come up short and aren’t successful. I think that most people simply don’t want to work hard enough to truly be successful. We’re having a lot of success [at Paul Quinn], but the first three-and-a-half years, I regularly worked fifteen, sixteen, seventeen-hour days. I went back to school to get a doctorate [a Ph.D. in Higher Education from the University of Pennsylvania] and worked full time. My students saw me come to the office on weekends at nine o’clock in the morning and stay until nine, ten o’clock at night. They saw that I don’t ask them to do anything I’m not willing to do myself.

The reality in dealing with under-resourced communities is that this population has a dysfunctional relationship with work. There are a myriad of contributing factors; it’s complex. You have to teach people the expectation of hard work. Telling them that they don’t work hard enough doesn’t mean I don’t love them, doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re wonderful, doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re special. But you can make some amazing things happen for yourself if you roll up your sleeves and work your way through it.

Tell me about the Four L’s of Quinnite Leadership here at Paul Quinn. Did you create those?

Our institutional ethos is WE over Me – the needs of the community supersede the wants of the individual. When I got here I looked around a realized we needed something to hold on to. The Guiding Principles of the institution are the Four L’s of Quinnite Leadership:

  • Love something greater than yourself
  • Leave places better than you found them
  • Live a life that matters
  • Lead from wherever you are

The Four L’s are basically my personal value system, learned through great parenting and a Jesuit education, but repackaged for Paul Quinn. The Jesuits teach us to be men and women for others. That translated to loving something greater than yourself.

My parents taught me to always, always leave places better than you found them.

We wanted to communicate to the students here that you don’t have to wait to lead; leadership begins today. In under-resourced communities, people need to become action-oriented. They need to be empowered. They need to hear, “You have the ability to change this. You don’t have to wait. You have something within your personal arsenal that can change your circumstances. Let’s go find it together.” That is lead from wherever you are.

Live a life that matters … When I was a freshman in high school I learned about renaissance men and women in my World History class. History remembers them as being good a many different things. I thought to myself, “Man, I want to be a renaissance man. I want to be someone that history remembers.” If you live a life that matters, that’s your legacy. Leave places better than you found them, improve other people’s lives, be selfless. History will remember your service.

What is Paul Quinn College to Oak Cliff, symbolically?

Our goal is to be one of America’s great small colleges. Period.

One of the things that’s very important to us, and important to me, is the use of language – controlling your narrative and establishing the narrative to be completely what you want, and not what others impose upon you. That’s important, especially in under-resourced communities and institutions, because people are always telling them who they can be, and what their dreams can be. Our goal is to create an extraordinary national institution. We want to be the signature higher education experience for students from urban, under-resourced communities.

In the context of Oak Cliff, we represent the non-gentrified possibilities for a better tomorrow for the indigenous people from this community. We’re not going to transform this school and then make it inaccessible for the very people we came to serve. What we’re saying is, when you subscribe to these values, the price won’t be what keeps you out. What will keep you out is your ability to serve. If you don’t want to serve, you don’t belong here. If you don’t want to be taught to lead, you don’t belong here.

Everyone has all this angst over “how do we develop Oak Cliff? How do we develop Southern Dallas?” The same way you’ve done it everywhere else. When you have a sustainable four-year, high performing institution, it produces the middle class that transforms the community from within.

Do you hope that graduates of this school stay in the area and reinvest themselves?

It’s not even about hope. I expect that a segment of my students will stay, and that they will pour themselves into transforming the area, absolutely. Not all of them, because we’re national. We need some people to go be mayors of LA, and Oakland, and Chicago, and New York, and to go do extraordinary things so that it raises the profile of the institution and inspires. We’re going to transform the institution and create an amazing place for the folks in this community who have held on for thirty, forty, fifty years, while a city built up everything north, and no one thought about them.

At the Sum + Substance event, you talked a little bit about anger. You said that it’s an important emotion – it causes things to happen if you use it the right way.

I think righteous anger can be incredibly healthy. You need to be angry about the state of affairs because you need to constantly be critical of those who come to you and say, “We did the best we could.” No you didn’t. You did what was in your best interest to do. You did what was safe for you to do. You did what soothed your conscious, but don’t tell me that this imbalance was the best that you could do.

When a bank tells us that our campus is worthless, when grocery stores told us, People in that neighborhood don’t look like our customers”, I said, “Thank you, because you didn’t have to tell me the truth. You could’ve given me the polite song and dance. You telling me the truth has infuriated me. It’s infuriated me enough that I am taking this personally, and I will expend whatever personal capital, whatever institutional capital that we must to do right by the people who deserve it.”

Revolutions don’t start from above. Revolutions start from below. They start from the places of unhappiness. They start from the places of dissatisfaction where people have lost a sense of hope, and they’ve lost their direction. They’re fed up with being told, “It’s not your turn, or you’re not good enough, or sorry, we did the best we could do.”

Revolutions are also messy. How do you plan for that?

Why do we have to plan for the messiness of the revolution? Life is messy. Poverty is messy. So what if some people’s feelings get hurt on the way to creating a better, more balanced city? Don’t we think that people’s lives have been hurt and their feelings have been hurt by living in mind-numbing poverty for generations? I’m not saying that you have to be angry to the point of irrational behavior. What I am saying, is that you also can’t allow yourself to become consumed by what everyone else is going to think about what you’re saying. You have to identify your constituency. You have to represent them to the best of your ability. I don’t want people to hate us, I don’t want people to hate me, but I also don’t think that it’s right that people live in food deserts.

I was struck by a few quotes from another interview and would enjoy hearing what’s behind them: 

You can be our kind and not be our color.

In my estimation, what HBCU’s are meant to really do is provide opportunities for students who have some type of disadvantage in their background.

I’m not insecure about our institutional heritage. I’m not insecure about our African American heritage. In fact, I’m so secure about both that I can welcome others as well. It doesn’t diminish mine.

Are we less of a Historically Black institution because our Miss Paul Quinn College is Latina? Are we less of a Historically Black institution because we have white soccer players? Are we less of a Historically Black institution because we have a diversity of religious experiences? No, we actually now have more to offer our Black students because those things; because we are expanding to become a HBCU that is also a Minority Serving Institution. What often happens when you grow up in under-resourced environments, is that you tend to engage in the ‘politics of less.’   That is, you define everything from a position of what you don’t have. You look around and you say, “I don’t have enough of this and I don’t have enough of that. If I share with you, I will have even less.” We reject that thought process. We believe that we can all have more if we share our resources. It’s not a zero sum game, but if you’ve grown up in poverty, that’s how you’ve been taught to define your life. We’re not going to do that.

The education you’re providing is more than academic.

Absolutely. I think that we would do our students a disservice if all we did was provide them with solely an academic education.

What is next? How can Dallas link arms and be part of the story?

The real estate community has completely embraced us.

Trammell (S. Crow) and The Real Estate Council (TREC) have been amazing. Trammell has been our number one donor for years and I don’t know if TREC could be any more supportive from the stand point of getting their members to provide services and help us in all other sorts of ways. We’ve got to build new buildings. There haven’t been any new buildings on this campus in forty-plus years. We need help. We need friends. They all know this and they’ve just been phenomenal.

As I think about what else we need outside of more economic resources, we need people to have some faith, that what they’re seeing is really happening. People don’t tend to believe something they’ve never seen before.

What would exemplify that people have faith?

I do think a lot of people have faith in us. I would like to see the counselors in DISD (Dallas Independent School District) show some faith by sending us more of their best students. We’re getting really good students now, but they rarely come from DISD. We can get great students from Detroit, Chicago, Pennsylvania, New York, St. Paul, and from California. We do an amazing job with gifted students. Because we are smaller, the line to stardom at Paul Quinn is much, much shorter.

There are so many people embracing us: the business community, the philanthropic community, and the majority of the Black, Hispanic, and Anglo communities. Politically, our elected officials have been incredibly supportive. I think the exception is more with a certain segment of the community that my students engage with more than I do. My students sometimes feel beaten down when they’re so excited to be Paul Quinn students and they go out in the community to serve, and hear disparaging things from this segment.

I think ours is just an issue of time with the non-believers.

It sounds like your reputation hasn’t caught up with you in some circles.

That’s exactly right. Who we are today hasn’t translated yet. In fairness this school (seemingly) struggled for twenty years and just started really getting back on track in the past five. It’s a matter of interpretation, but it makes a difference.

What advice can you give to other leaders facing the hard work of a turnaround situation?  

  • The opportunity has to personally resonate with you. You have to believe in it.
  • I tell people all the time, “You should not lead people you do not love.” I think you lead with love. I think that makes an enormous difference. I love this school, I love my staff, I love my students. I feel it is a privilege every day to come to work and be their president. I genuinely feel that way.
  • You have to know where you want to go.
  • It’s really important to have a sense of humor; you need to be able to laugh at yourself. You’re going to do ridiculous things.
  • Understand that failure isn’t forever.

Coming back to leading with love, you also need to learn how to love. The best advice I was given, advice that fundamentally transformed my presidency, happened early. The first summer that I was at Paul Quinn, I got into a huge argument in the middle of campus with a student. On the outside this young man looked and acted tough. We were still yelling when we got to my office where broke down into tears. After he left, an extraordinary staff member, Ms. Dickerson, said to me, “Baby, you know, I met your mother. I know that your mother loved you. I know that you grew up in an environment where there was strict discipline, but you never spent one second of your life wondering if you were loved. You bear all the markings of a guy who has had an abundance of love. If you hadn’t had that, and your college President yelled at you, would you have heard the love, or would you have just heard the tough?” She said, “They won’t hear you until they know you love them. You have to learn to lead with love.”

I can’t begin to tell you what a difference it made. It didn’t make a difference immediately, because there were still students for whom I thought, “You don’t need love, you need to have your butt kicked. You don’t get that other part,” (laughter) but it made a difference. I see the difference it makes. It’s made me a far better leader.

The other thing is my students need to see me as a husband, and as a father, because many of them have no model for that. They see me being very loving towards my wife. They see me bringing my son up and hugging him. They see him come up here and run around wreaking havoc. They see my little girl (she turned one in February). It turns out that people need to see how I do these things, and it’s okay to be sensitive in front of them.

I have a final question if you will indulge me. Are you in line with what you feel your life’s purpose is? If you think about those kinds of things, would you say that you’re on track?

I think that I have found a peace that I did not have before. To the extent that that peace is only possible when you are aligned with your purpose, then perhaps so. I think I am becoming the man that my family would’ve hoped that I would become. I think maybe this is what I was built to do.

Thank so much for your time. This has been delightful.

Thank you for thinking that I’d be a worthy subject.


Today a very solid foundation is in place at Paul Quinn College. There is fidelity in their Core Ideology, which surfaced naturally in our conversation. There is strong alignment between Sorrell’s personal values and those of Paul Quinn – there is no wonder that he feels peace. He is also demonstrating the ability to hold two important poles in business: a relentless pursuit of goals and executional excellence and the ability to be a compassionate leader and role model for a population who direly needs it.

Check out Paul Quinn College on Facebook


LeeAnn Mallory is a leadership coach and consultant who develops exemplary leaders and thriving organizations.


Leadership: Just Like Riding a Bike – Preparing to Go Solo

Leadership: Just Like Riding a Bike – Preparing to Go Solo

A recent bike ride opened the doors to my imagination, resulting in surprising metaphors on leadership. Writing about my experiences is a new practice of expression for me and not only is it teaching me how to pay a different type of attention to life, it’s bringing a new and welcome creative energy to it.

Due to heavy rainfall in Dallas this Spring I haven’t been on my bike much. I’m a weekend rider and although I don’t put in a ton of miles I do enjoy riding – a lot. I love being outdoors, the fast pace, and the scenery once we get on the trail that leads to White Rock Lake. This particular Saturday I decided to go out on my own. My husband and I usually ride together – in fact I’ve never ridden to the lake on my own. I’m happy to let him lead the way and just pedal, even zone out (more on that dynamic later!).

First to note regarding my maiden voyage was my late start. I was tentative about riding solo and I procrastinated. This is a pattern for me when facing something that I don’t have all figured out. I could feel myself backing out of the sweat and uncertainty, so I jumped in my gear and started taking decisive steps before I talked myself out of it. I put aside my excuses: The house looks like a pit – maybe I should stay and clean instead.  It’s getting too late and too hot. The plants need watering and the dog needs bathing…You get it.

I began the preparation; the first and most important step in every ride. As with most any physical activity there are risks. In cycling my big concerns are wrecks, equipment failures and ‘hitting the wall’. I did a quick evaluation, addressed what I could and took a chance on the others. A flat tire for example. I’ve never repaired a flat, and they’re fairly common. I was willing to risk needing assistance or having to walk my bike back home. I stuffed an extra tube and CO2 cartridge in my pack, hoping a Good Samaritan would help me if I needed it. Check.

I expected to ride about 20 miles so I packed fuel and water. A midday ride in June in Texas will be HOT and probably humid given all the rain we’d had. I have Type 1 Diabetes and have crashed my blood sugar many times riding, so having carbs on board is imperative. In fact, if I don’t have quick-acting glucose I don’t ride. A glucose monitor, used to check blood sugars is also a must. These items are non-negotiable and I won’t risk riding without them. Oh, and a phone, credit card and identification in case I need help. Everything was packed and ready to go. Check.

Other equipment was also made ready: air in the tires, seat adjusted and Allen wrench in the bag just in case. Helmet, gloves, sunglasses and shoes. All checks.

The ride, which I will write about later, was eventful, energizing and full of lessons. In my organizational life, preparation for projects is very often not given the same attention as planning for a ride. It doesn’t have the excitement as does the launch. Project planning typically takes much more preparation but many failures and re-starts can be avoided by taking the time to do it.


  • Are you familiar with your own tendencies when undertaking a new endeavor? I saw my tendency for avoidance and procrastination. I called in my volition to put my butt on the seat and start pedaling (I have to call on this often!). For others the tendency may be to take action without a plan, to overlook risk assessment, or fail to see the links and overlaps between the new project and those already in motion.
  • Has the destination been defined and mapped? For my inaugural solo outing I did not attempt the part of the ride that would require better ‘directional intelligence’ (I am directionally challenged!). In regards to launching this series of posts, I was not able to move forward until I had broken my amoebic idea into defined sections that I could put my arms around. I then assigned dates for completing each section. When I can see the basis of a plan I am much more likely to take action. Are you or is someone on your team this way? Provide a vision and a few steps to help get them started.
  • Do you have the resources (people, technology, materials, skills, finances, etc.) required to support success? What’s the equivalent of your fuel, hydration, glucose monitor, phone, credit card, etc.?
  • Have you assessed the risks and do you know which ones are worth it? This is a conversation the ‘fire, ready, aim’ folks really dislike. They may reschedule many meetings to avoid this topic – engaging in potential obstacles is a real buzz kill for them. This is why diverse teams that rely on each other’s strengths win more races.
  • What experts are available in case of a problem or breakdown? Consider soliciting their advice before embarking. On another note, congratulations if you are going where no one has gone before!
  • Does the project need a seasoned leader or can a ready-to-ride newbie be coached through it?

This metaphor will carry on over the coming weeks. I asked my 20 year-old daughter for feedback on this first post yesterday. She commented that the points could be related to any aspect of life. Excellent! It does appear that life is rich with varying versions of the same basic themes. The trick, and I don’t think it’s a high degree difficulty one, is to transfer our learning and capabilities from one domain of life to another.