On June 30, 2022, we were joined by JeVon McCormick, CEO of Scribe Media and an EY Central South Entrepreneur of the Year, for a conversation moderated by our Vice President of Programs Abby Schwalb on his new book Modern Leader, his perspective on how to embrace responsibility and take action as a leader, and what it means to prioritize people as a Conscious Capitalist.
Over the course of the conversation, JeVon’s insights illuminated several approaches to rethink what it means to be a leader today. Here, we’ve round up our top four takeaways for modern leadership. Scroll to the bottom for an even shorter summary and action items.
Ditch the old playbook for what it means (and how it looks) to be a leader.
JeVon weaves a consistent thread through his new book imploring leaders to scrap their old notions on what a leader looks like, how they should or shouldn’t act, and what it means to lead.
Looking back on history and at a time when corporate systems first began to emerge, JeVon reflected on the lack of women and people of color in leadership when the first Fortune 500 list materialized in 1955. As a result of that lack of diversity, many of our existing systems are oriented towards benefiting a very small population of people, rather than serving current leaders, and championing young emerging ones, of varying backgrounds.
One very common barrier to entry resulting from our dated notions of leadership is the intense focus on higher education when recruiting and hiring candidates into roles. JeVon remarked, “We set up resume systems right now where if you don’t have a college degree, you don’t even get a look. That’s a very exclusionary system that’s very broken.”
In sharing his own background, JeVon noted that he himself does not have a high school or college degree, yet it’s clear that over the course of his career, he has consistently learned and grown, excelled, and developed into a respected leader within and beyond his company.
“Open your eyes, open doors, and open a backpack.”
In reevaluating what it means to lead, JeVon called attention to three ways leaders can leverage opportunities and address the challenges around them.
The first begins with taking stock of your business practices and culture: “We don’t know what we don’t know. In knowing that, let’s ask ourselves: ‘Why are we in the situation that we’re in?’ Let’s open our eyes.”
Why are we in the situation that we’re in? Let’s open our eyes.
JeVon gave the example of employers that struggle with diversity, but also have an inclination to hire for “cultural fit.” Oftentimes, this concept only adds to a lack of diversity because those who are a culture fit are often hired because they seem to look, think, and act like everyone else at a given company.
Instead, JeVon made the case for “culture adds,” explaining “You want to add people to your culture … you want to have diverse backgrounds, people who think differently, come from a different background, have a different point of view. That’s how we improve in business.”
After taking stock in why your company is in its current position, make a conscious effort to open doors to those who may not typically benefit from opportunities because of their background, skill set, or otherwise.
For many Conscious Leaders that benefit from a level of privilege, JeVon pushed for them to use their stature to serve others, noting that privilege in itself is not a bad thing, but is “only negative when we don’t use that privilege to benefit others.”
Lastly, raising a generation of more well-equipped leaders begins with young minds right in, or around, the communities in which we live and work. In looking back at his own upbringing in an inner city school system, JeVon and Scribe Media leaders decided to leverage the company’s financial resources to support kids in surrounding low-income neighborhoods that did not have fundamental resources, like backpacks, pens and pencils, and books.
Create a culture of welcome.
JeVon takes diversity, equity, and inclusion a step further by embracing a welcoming culture within his own organization:
“In creating a culture of welcome, we don’t care who you voted for, we don’t care how you identify, we don’t care if you believe in God or if you don’t, we don’t care if your transgender, gay, Black, white, Latino … it does not matter. Are you human? Welcome.
Can you perform in the role? Can you drive results? Can you uphold the company values? Great. Welcome.”
By putting less emphasis on what makes individuals different, JeVon is able to get to the heart of what makes a great team that not only strengthens the organization but improves the personal and professional lives of each member of his team.
- Ditch your old playbook. Identify ways you may be perpetuating old notions of what it means to be a leader at your organization, like a focus on academic milestones rather than experience, and reasonably change those requirements where you can.
- Open your eyes, your doors, and a backpack. Ideate with your company’s leaders around where your organization can improve and record and measure your progress. Connect those who may be marginalized with meaningful professional growth and development opportunities. Invest in the generations to come, like youth in a low-income neighborhood near your workplace.
- Create a culture of welcome. Rethink what it means to create an environment where people feel welcomed and actively change the way you define and talk about your culture.
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