What Teach For America Can Teach You

I had the great privilege of conducting a staff workshop on Total Leadership a few days ago at Teach For America's headquarters in New York:


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When you exit the elevator on TFA's main floor in this modest office building on an industrial Midtown street, you see a long blue wall (in a hall too long and narrow for one photo with my rudimentary camera lens - hence the three below) and these words:



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It's immediately apparent that everyone who works for this rapidly-growing, non-profit powerhouse (at which the average employee age, from my observation, cannot possibly exceed 30) - from the facilities maintenance guys to the receptionist to the senior management team - is deeply committed to this vision and subscribes to its core values. Number one of the five of these is this: Relentless pursuit of results.

How, you might ask, does this square with the organization's equally emphatic commitment to personal and professional alignment (a management precept so commonly grasped it's referred to by its acronym, PPA)? Here's what management says about how results are to be achieved: "We assume personal responsibility for achieving ambitious, measurable results in pursuit of our vision. We persevere in the face of challenges, seek resources to ensure the best outcomes, and work toward our goals with a sense of purpose and urgency." The obsession with results corresponds to a healthy laissez faire approach to when, where, and how these results are achieved. There's lots of flexibility and trust is assumed.

TFA members are there because they believe in what they're doing. But this isn't your ordinary volunteer outfit. The standards for performance are super-high. Acceptance criteria for members of the teaching corps are incredibly stringent, and increasingly so. Indeed, especially in the current economic climate, I confidently predict that service to society will be the most attractive sector in the labor market for new entrants in 2009 and that competition for jobs at TFA will be greater than for those at Goldman Sachs.

Hanging out with the talented people of this wonderful organization left me smiling; feeling inspired by the power of their zest for making a positive difference in the lives of others. There's no gap between the goals they pursue at work and the goals they have for their contribution to their community and society.

So, today's questions for you: Does your work enable you to contribute to social good? If not, or not enough, what might you do to make it so? How would such a change affect your performance at work; in the community; in your family; and in the private sphere of your mind, body and spirit?

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