If you work in a place where your boss operates through fear (“I’m going to fire the next person who makes a mistake!”), your colleagues watch their own backs, or the product or service you’re hired to sell will do your clients more harm than good, then John Hope Bryant’s new book Love Leadership: The New Way To Lead In A Fear-Based World will be an eye-opener and a beacon of hope for you.
In town to accept a SIP (Social Innovation Park) Fellow Award last week at the Global Social Innovators Forum, Bryant quickly won over anyone he met with his charming mix of wit and wisdom. Throughout the conference’s plenary sessions and forums, Bryant communicated the five core tenets of “love leadership”, a contrarian proposal for a more effective way to lead: “Fear Fails”, “Love Makes Money”, “Vulnerability is Power”, “Loss Creates Leaders” and “Giving Is Getting”. After GSIF, Bryant held a talk and a signing for Love Leadership.
One may be tempted to call John Hope Bryant a social entrepreneur, but that would be like calling Bill Gates a computer expert.
Bryant, 43, is the founder and CEO of Operation HOPE, a global non-profit that teaches financial literacy and provides financial solutions to over 51 low-income communities in US and South Africa.
He is also the vice-chairman of the US President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, working on a governmental level to make an active difference in giving the lower-income groups “a hand up and not a hand out”.
Bryant is a business and financial wunderkind. He shares the story of how his parents divorced over money, and how his mother brought him up to be a businessman, dressing him up in a velvet suit from the time he was 10. At 16 he owned his first business, a candy store. At the age of 18 he was homeless for six months, living out of his Jeep when he caught a break in a banking job, with no prior experience. By the time he was 26, he had bought over his former employer’s business and started Bryant Group Companies, and making millions.
And that was when he received his calling. “I remember asking God, ‘What is my purpose here?’” he writes in Love Leadership. “And sometimes you have to be careful asking questions like that, because God may actually answer you.”
In 1992, during the riots that followed the Rodney King trial, Bryant watched as South Central Los Angeles was burned down. Desperate to do something, he spoke to his spiritual mentor Rev Chip Murray, who told him “These folks cannot rebuild a community. You can rebuild a community. God made you for this moment. Take your business skills and put them to use.”
Out of that command, Operation HOPE was born. Bryant joined the government, the community and the private sector in a partnership. Through responsible and fair lending by the banks, the black community began to own their own homes, paying mortgages instead of rentals of the same amount.
Bryant found his purpose creating such win-win solutions over and over again, the last 17 years. Operation HOPE has served over a million lower-income individuals and raised over US$500 million to help the communities.
In person, Bryant speaks in quotable quotes. “The best way to start living a dream is to wake up,” is one Bryantism. Another is “You are all leaders because you can all serve.” But the difference between Bryant and some other self-help guru is that he is completely authentic. One never feels he is at any point giving you “a line”. He speaks openly and honestly, making a point to acknowledge and encourage everyone he is talking to.
And that is precisely what makes Bryant an instant hero wherever he goes. It is also what makes his book Love Leadership a riveting read: Bryant’s lack of self-consciousness in sharing his personal experiences and past mistakes to drive home a point. He admits to having been less than a great boss to work for. He shares that when Operation HOPE, like every non-profit in the world, was finding itself short on fulfillments of pledge amounts, instead of begging the crisis, he rolled up his sleeves and got to work — the result: Operation HOPE exceeded its 2008 targets and brought in more pledges than it had in good times.
Bryant has the energy to drive thousands of volunteers to doing a good work. His passion and personality has attracted support from the likes of Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama. His mentors include the legendary music producer Quincy Jones, who ropes in hot music stars like Tyrese to promote Bryant’s 5MK drive (“Five million kids in our financial literacy program”).
Like Obama, Bryant recognizes the power of social media in promoting his causes and creating connections — he was actively Tweeting on Twitter (@johnhopebryant) as the GSIF conference sessions were taking place), and he Tweets several times a day about where he’s been (like the White House on the day Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize!). He is on FaceBook, and his website (www.johnhopebryant.com) is now on a Love Leadership campaign, daily publishing photos from Bryant’s travels and book signings, and running reviews of the book as they get emailed to him. He admits he never says no to anyone who asks him to be their mentor, “because this person just wants to be acknowledged and encouraged” — he mentors them via email.
In fact just talking to him, one feels 24 hours is far too few to get so much done, and that one should start doing something positive and making an active difference right this minute!
“I feel very blessed to be able to do a work that is so fulfilling to me, and so helpful to others and so relevant to the times,” he tells City News. But he’s far from done.
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“I want to reach, teach and touch five million kids. I want to start a course on entrepreneurship. I want to make smart sexy. I want to spark a silver rights movement around the world, to give people a hand up and not a hand out. I want to spark a movement around love leadership, and really inspire a new way to lead.
“I want to help change the world by giving people the tools and inspiration. I want to be a fisher of men, to help people help themselves.
“I want to change the world.”
Exclusive Interview with John Hope Bryant