Your Leadership Story - Part 5

The TYPE Reporter, Excerpts from Issue No. 94, written by Susan Scanlon

(The TYPE Reporter is a newsletter about your personality type, and how it influences you in all the stages of life. You can subscribe by contacting Susan Scanlon, INFJ, Editor, 703-764-5370, or on the website.)

What Will Your Leadership Look Like?

What determines the particular cause that a person will want to serve? Is it their type? Judging by the stories of the leaders in this issue, it doesn't seem to be type. It seems more to be the place they were in when they witnessed injustice or need. It seems to have more to do with their circumstances than their type.

What determines how a person will serve that cause? Judging by the stories of the four leaders in this issue, it seems to have everything to do with type. If you look at your own life, and ask yourself what injustice you would most like to correct, or need you would most like to fill, it may have something to do with your type or it may not. If you look at the ways that you think of helping, however, they will probably have a lot to do with the specific talents of your type. Or, if you are uncertain about how you can help, look first at the things that you do without effort, the activities that bring you joy and pride.

If you want to make the world a better place, don't think about being a superhero, all things to all people. That's like trying to open a hundred locked doors. If you want to find the doorway that allows you to enter the world and change it, find the one labeled "You."

Carol Shapiro's Leadership Story
Carol, an ENTJ, uses the "executive" talents of her type to bring many groups together. She brings together all the people who could possibly help the parolee: the parole officer, social services, family, friends, community, and even the justice system, and show them how to work together to help the parolee stay out of jail.

When I was in high school, I had a teacher who talked about the disparity of the bail system. He said that if you had money, you were not going to be in jail. That equity issue really stuck with me.

I had a lot of questions, so when I was 16, I borrowed my mother's car and interviewed the warden of the Buck's County Jail in Philadelphia. After our interview, he suggested that I talk to the inmates. I listened to their stories, and when I left, I felt like I'd just met people, not anything other than people, but I was going home and they were not. I realized that victims and offenders are often the same people, and I knew I'd found my life's work.

I continued to volunteer in jails and prisons throughout my college years. Then, in the early years of my career, I worked for prison and jail systems in Washington, Maryland, London and New York City. When I was working at Riker's Island in New York City, we would hold graduation ceremonies for prisoners who had finished with drug treatment programs. I'd see the families come all dressed up, and proud to watch their sons and daughters finish something. I'd talk to them later and they'd say things like, "I take care of his kids," or, "When he comes home, he sometimes steals from me, but I still love him," or "He disappears for days on end and I worry."

A light bulb went on in my head. I realized that we're missing the boat by only paying attention to the people behind the bars. Is it possible we could tap the strength of the family in keeping them out of jail? Is it possible we could ask the family how best to address the needs of their relative?

People under community supervision often say that their families are the strongest influence in their lives, so a family member's concern can be a powerful motivator to comply with treatment. Families know their loved one intimately and worry about his or her well-being, so they are often the first to notice a crisis in the making. They are in the best position to do something about the crisis, if they know what to do.

We spent a year planning a family-based program, then in 1995 we found a site for it in an abandoned grocery store in the Latino section of New York City. We called it La Bodega de la Familia, (the family grocery) creating a Latino name very intentionally, because the Hispanic and Latino populations are the fastest growing in poverty and HIV / AIDS.

Carol Shapiro on her personal style
What comes most easily to me is spinning ideas. I can think slightly differently, but not too farfetched. It also helps that I genuinely like people, so I enjoy the people I work with. I have a group of people that I can talk things through with, and I like engaging other people who are experts in what they do.

It was a challenge to convey this new strength-based way of thinking, when the justice system is a deficit-based culture. It was challenging to make it sound like it wasn't just some hokey liberal idea. I was able to do it because I was a charismatic and passionate leader. I'm working now to develop the organization so that it will have continuity beyond me.

What's also challenging for me is that I'm much more controlling than I wish I were. Things come so quick and intuitively for me that I often feel I can do it better and faster than other people, so I get impatient, and that's not good for the organization. Then, I can't believe that everyone doesn't think the same way I do.

To counter this tendency, I've very consciously created processes that allow everyone to have a voice and to own the outcome and the ideas. We work in vertical work groups, with line staff, mid-level managers and leaders all working together on problems. Then, I hire outside consultants who can see things more objectively than my colleagues or I. I look for really strong people who can challenge me.

I've found that if you don't always have the answers, people can step in and be experts. Their solutions are sometimes different than what I would have come up with, and sometimes provocative and sometimes great. It takes the pressure off me to be right all the time and to be the boss.

Sometimes people in the government will say to me, "Families are the problem, Carol, not the solution." My strategy when dealing with resistance is not to be defensive or to tell them they're wrong. Instead I say, "Well, can you give me some examples?" Then, after they've told me what their experiences have been, I might ask them, "Can you think of a time where a family has been helpful?"

I think it's called "affirmative inquiry," but it's something that I just do instinctively, because I believe in giving people the power to come up with solutions on their own.

I care very deeply about social justice, even in my home. Our household has always been one of supporting the kids, valuing their voices, and looking at their strengths. We have never grounded them or punished them. When my younger son was 10, he suffered from a life threatening illness, and during that time we were frequently asking him what worked for him, and consulting him on the best way to help him. I'm not 100% good at it, either at work or at home, but I'm always trying to listen to everyone and respect what they say.

To another ENTJ who is thinking about doing something to improve their world, I would say that innovation doesn't happen without risk taking, but you can test the risk. Find people you respect - not friends - but people that are related to what you want to do, and talk to them. Try to find people who have skill sets and analytic qualities that you may not have. Find out who is going to be the most critical of this and who you will have to convince. Try to answer the questions they are going to have, like what makes this new, and why hasn't this been done before. There are usually reasons.

What I've learned about myself is that it's great to be doing something that you love. A consuming passion is a great organizer in your life. It's provided an amazing beacon for me, no matter where I am. I've never thought of this as work, because my work and my being are one and the same. I just love getting people excited about these issues.