anton gunn imperfectly empowered podcast with ahna fulmer

3 Questions Every Leader Needs To Ask

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Today’s guest, Anton Gunn, shares how he moved forward from the loss of a loved one deployed overseas, and how this difficult time in life taught him the true meaning of sacrifice and service. Tune in to hear Anton’s expert advice on how you can become a more respected and admired leader. 

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IN THIS EPISODE, YOU WILL LEARN:

  • Greatest takeaways to become a successful leader.
  • The 3 fundamental questions we should ALL be asking.
  • The key to healing from traumatic loss.
  • Why football is like marriage.
  • How to be socially conscious through diversifying yourself with others.
  • The most practical way to become a more admired leader.
Today’s guest, Anton Gunn, shares how he moved forward from the loss of a loved one while being deployed overseas, and how this difficult time in life taught him the true meaning of sacrifice and service. Tune in to hear Anton’s expert advice on how you can become a more respected and admired leader. 

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Today’s guest, Anton Gunn, shares how he moved forward from the loss of a loved one deployed overseas, and how this difficult time in life taught him the true meaning of sacrifice and service. Tune in to hear Anton’s expert advice on how you can become a more respected and admired leader. 

ABOUT ANTON GUNN

Anton Gunn is the former senior advisor to president Barack Obama and a leading authority on Socially conscious leadership. An international speaker and consultant, he is the best-selling author of The Presidential Principles, and renowned for his message on establishing world class culture in the  workplace creating admired leaders.   Featured by TIME magazine, the Wall street Journal, Inc Magazine, BBC, NPR, and Good Morning America welcome admired leader and friend – Anton Gunn!

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Today’s guest, Anton Gunn, shares how he moved forward from the loss of a loved one while being deployed overseas, and how this difficult time in life taught him the true meaning of sacrifice and service. Tune in to hear Anton’s expert advice on how you can become a more respected and admired leader. 
Transcript

“We can’t tell people that we care without actually doing something to show them that we care. You have to take the time to learn about people, learn their background, learn what’s important to them, where they come from, what makes them tick? What inspires them, what motivates them, what pisses them off their struggles, where their aspirations are”
Welcome to the Imperfectly Empowered podcast with leading DIY lifestyle blogger Anna Fulmer where women are inspired with authentic stories and practical strategies to reclaim their hearts and homes by empowering transformation, one imperfect data time.
Welcome to another episode of the Imperfectly Empowered podcast. I am your host Anna Fulmer. Today, it is my honor and pleasure to introduce to you Anton Gunn. Anton is the former senior advisor to president Barack Obama and the leading authority on Socially Conscious Leadership and international speaker and consultant.
He is the bestselling author of The Presidential Principles and renowned for his message on establishing world-class culture in the workplace by creating admired leaders, featured by time magazine, the wall street journal, Inc magazine, BBC MBR, and good morning America. To name a few welcome admired leader and my friend Anton Gunn.
Well, Anton, welcome to the Imperfectly Empowered podcast. I am honored to have you here. You shifted your schedule around to be here and I am incredibly grateful. So, for people listening and watching, I have to tell you a quick story about Anton. We met at a conference and it was one of those conferences.I mean, it was an amazing event, but it was the whole point of it was to network. So, people would talk and then the rest of us would give feedback. And any time you’re at an event like that, there’s always a lot of feedback. And there’s so many great voices, but there’s fluff advice and then there’s like advice that you can sink your teeth into.
And I remember the first time you got up and you gave your feedback to somebody. I remember doing one of these like, Hmm, like “who is that? Who is that speaking?” Because that was like, I was like, Hmm, “this guy speaks my language.” It’s advice that you can sink your teeth into. It’s not the fluffy kind that like a strong gust of wind would blow it away.
So that is my first impression of you is like, this is a guy that I need to talk to you because you do, you just are so good at giving feedback in a way that you can do something with you’re a doer, you’re a shaker and a mover, nothing fluffy about this man. So, I think it was just a couple of years ago, one or two that you were playing football for the University of South Carolina.
Is that right? The O-line to be exact? Well, you said a couple of years ago, let me be honest. I actually haven’t played college football in almost 30 years. Some people tell me I look a lot younger than I actually am, but my last college football season was 1994 and I feel like I’ve lived like 15 lives since then.But yeah, football is a part of my life. I love it. It’s football season and, uh, college and pro doesn’t matter what you’re watching. It’s still a great time of year where people gather and enjoy the game. And the game was a big part of my life.
Well, I love that we’re huge football fans over here. I don’t know if you know this, but my husband’s been a coach for, I think, eight years now.
Yeah. High school coach. He was the head coach. He’s now working as an assistant because of all of our little Rascals running around. So we’re huge football fans over here. My kids have grown up on the sidelines in the stands. Is that gonna where my husband and I we’re both athletes, and we know how valuable sports are not just for the competitive and the discipline aspect to it, but also the value in teaching and inspiring these concepts of leadership. Not to mention diversity. It’s one of the rare places that people of all tongues, tribes and nations literally come together as one and play. They have the same goal in the end.
How did your years in sports growing up help shape from a young age, that view of leadership and diversity in your experience?
Yeah, that’s a great question and I think you’re so right, I mean, there was so many lessons that sports taught me both good and bad, and I always talk about them both. So first and foremost, when you’re an offensive lineman, the greatest lesson that you learn in sports, and when you playing offensive line is that it’s not about you. Leadership is not about you. And what do I mean is not about you. You don’t ever really hear an offensive alignments name until they make a mistake. I mean, their whole job is to work hard so other people can get the glory and the success and the achievements. Then their role is as a background role.That’s the lesson number one.
Lesson number two, that you can achieve anything by yourself. As an offensive lineman, you work as a unit. There are five people on the line. You have a center, you have two guards and two tackles. Those are the core of the opposite line. Sometimes you add a tight end, but generally speaking, it’s a center, two guards in two tackles.
And the main point is that you five have to work in unison. You have to be on the same page, or as one of my coaches used to refer to it, we have to have the same heartbeat. We have to move in unison, know what each other’s doing, have each other’s back, be aware of what the challenges that the other person is dealing with at the other end of the offensive line.
And so those are two great lessons for every leader is number one. It’s not about you and you shouldn’t try to get all the credit, the team gets all the credit. Your job is to put people in position to be successful. And number two, you gotta work collectively, if you want to achieve anything that matters.
And that’s literally what I learned from the offensive line, but I played multiple positions before I was an officer’s lineman. I was a tight end in high school, and I used to catch touchdowns. And so for me, that was about out thinking my opponent. So whenever you face opposition, you gotta figure out how to beat the opposition or beat your competition if you will, whatever it is.
So when we are facing challenges in our organizations as leaders, you gotta find a way to beat the opposition. That means you gotta be on your A game all the time, and don’t take any play off. You gotta focus and get the job done. Those are some of the things that I learn.
Can you speak at all too, so you’ve played in South Carolina. Can you think of a story or an example of a time where you may have had differences with a teammate off the field? Because what happens in the locker room is not what happens on the field and there’s this concept of you lay all of that aside, when you step on the field, you are one, you play together, you work together.
And I love that concept too, in sports because it speaks to this reality that I think we’ve really lost in our culture at the moment, that even if you disagree off the field, out of work, that should not inhibit us from being able to work together in a respectful manner to achieve the same goal. Can you think of a time in your sports career or an example where you had to play that out with another teammate and you saw success in your ability to grow and communicate and still work together despite off the field disagreement.
Yeah. So I mean, all the time I played football in the Southeastern conference and the SCC, and we had teammates who were from all over the country. I had a teammate who was from Compton, California, and went to high school in South Central Los Angeles.
I also had a teammate from Oklahoma. Those two places could be more different. I grew up in Beach, Virginia. I have teammates from Georgia, Florida, Connecticut, from all kinds of places. Right? And so when people come from different backgrounds, they have different values and different things that are important to know that they care about.
And there are many times when we were off the field, those disagreements raised their head every day. I mean just how we saw things differently, how we communicated. I can’t tell you how many off the field fights that people had in the dorm room or arguing over girlfriends and over who took my $20 off my desk or who threw my notebook away. I mean, it doesn’t matter what it was. Those things happen off the field, but sometimes they actually carried onto the field, but they played themselves out and healthy competition. I remember two teammates, one was from Florida and other ones from Georgia. They were on two different sides of all, one office, one defense, their lockers were like five people apart.
The numbers were different, 45 and 50. They argued like crazy in the locker room and LTV. I don’t know what it was. I don’t know what the situation was. I think it started with joking on each other. But when we got on the practice field, they literally started to call each other and a drill, and the coach said, “well, let’s get it on.”
And so they went head to head in a drill and you know what it did more than anything else. It galvanized the rest of the team watching these two men go at it fiercely because we knew that there was a backstory of what was going on, but when it came to game time. They both had each other’s back unequivocally because we all wore the same jersey.
And so it’s never into this place where you want to just say, I want to go along and get along. And I’m just going to assume that we all have to be the same. No, you can talk out your differences. You can hash out the differences. But the most important thing is to remember that there is a team and that team is more important than any individual.
And there’s a mission, a game plan, a playbook or goal for the team. And if you don’t do your part, if you let your personal issues get in the way of the team, you won’t achieve the success that you hope to achieve.
I love that. It’s hilarious. As you’re talking, I’m thinking like, geez, this sounds like my marriage.
It’s like any relationship, right? I mean, even in marriage, when you are in the same home environment, it’s like, all right, we are on opposite sides of the ball right now. We need to duke it out. But at the end of the day, we are on the same team as we raise our kids as we go through life. But I love the entire concept of success is not the absence of struggle.
It’s not the absence of disagreement and differences. It’s how do we succeed? Maybe even because of those. Anyway, well, I love sports. I can do an hour just talking about sports, but yeah, we’ll move on there. Booker T Washington has this amazing quote. He said “success is to be measured, not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”
And that quote is really all about what this podcast stands for and talking about struggles and how we overcome about 21 years ago. Now, I think it was, you faced an obstacle that few in life ever faced, let alone overcome. Tell us a little bit about what happened in October of 2000.
Yeah, that’s a great place to start. I actually remember it as if it was yesterday. It was a Thursday morning, 8:30 AM I get up. I was in graduate school in South Carolina. I get up and I’m getting dressed, getting ready to go to class. And I’m watching Today’s Show as I do every morning before I leave the house. And I hear on the news that there was an explosion of board, a United States ship called the USS Cole.
And my brother at the time was in Navy and I knew his ship was traveling on the ocean, but I didn’t know they were in a port in the middle east. And I hear this on the news that morning and my mom calls me an hour later and says, “that was your brother’s ship” and I was like, well, “how do you know that? I just emailed with him.”
He told me they were in the middle of the ocean. And she says, no, I got an email from him on Monday saying that they were going to port in the middle east and he’s on the cole and that was a cole. But what we would later learn that day at about 4:30 that afternoon, that my brother and 16 of his shipmates were killed by two Al-qaeda suicide bombers, as they were attacking the USS cole as it was in a port in Yemen.
Uh, the port of Aden came in, which is a country in the middle east. And there were 39 others that were injured. And it was one of the most devastating days of my life, because here’s the context that I want to tell you, this is going to be easy for some to understand. We recently celebrated veterans day and there are four generations of men in my family who are veterans.
So my great grandfather served in both world wars. My grandfather served in world war II. Margo Clarence was a career war veteran. My uncle, LG Vietnam veteran. My dad was a Vietnam and there’s a storm veteran. My dad’s baby brother and my uncle Lucky was in bootcamp when the Vietnam war ended. So every generation of men in my family had put on a uniform the same way my brother did, but three generations served in combat and they came home.
However, in 2000, this was before nine 11, before most people had any idea who Osama bin Laden was, who Al Qaeda was. My younger brother was murdered killed by two Al-qaeda suicide bombers when they attack the United States ship. And when it happened, I can’t even explain to you how many ways. I was broken as a human being because I’m the one I’m the oldest of four boys and this is my younger brother,okay, and he was my biggest responsibility. I’ll never forget when I was seven years old, my mom sat him on the couch beside me, as she went upstairs to go feed the baby brothers. I have twins who are baby brothers. She went to go feed the twins and she put my brother on the couch and she says that you let anything happen to him.
Don’t you let them fall and you let them get hurt. If anything happens to him, it’s going to happen to you. You know, that’s what moms tell the siblings. And so I took it very seriously, the responsibility of looking out for my little brothers and helping to shape their lives and helping them to make good decisions.
So to lose my brother and his way was devastating. And I really wanted to give up a life and just go home and hug my mom, my dad, and protect my two baby brothers from any harm. And it was just incredibly impossible and I can’t stress how hard it was. And here we are, 21 years later, I still feel the pain of that day.
It doesn’t get any better. It just gets different. But instead of giving up on life, I use it as fuel to try to make a difference in this world and to try to make sure that I leave a legacy in, you know, you talked about Booker T Washington’s quote of success. I have a second quote comes from Dr. Miles Monroe, and that quote is “success without a successor is a failure.”
And if you don’t use your gifts and your talents to leave the world a better place for those that come along after you, you might be successful in life, but you will never be significant. And so in the wake of my brother’s tragedy. I don’t want to chase success. I want to chase significance and making a difference in people’s lives.And that’s why I do what I do every day. Helping leaders build a better culture in their workforce, in their organization.
And in honor of your brother, his name, is it Charon, was that his name? Charon? Charon Gunn. He was about 22 year old brother at the time, five years younger than me when he was killed.
And so I lost his life at 22. He’s buried in Arlington national cemetery. So do you ever visit Arlington national cemetery. He’s in section 60 and his grave marker is 77 63. He will love to see you come back and pay your respects if you ever there.
Yeah, and a note to my producer to make sure that goes on our show notes and we’ll honor him in that way. What was your favorite thing about Sharon? When you think of him, what first comes to mind?
Two things come to mind number one, the Oakland Raiders are now the Las Vegas Raiders. He was a diehard greatest fan. I mean, when I say diehard, I mean, like when they lose a game, he would like to take his Jersey off and throw it on the floor and just, it was a brave man to be passionate about the Oakland Raiders.
All right. All right. Yeah. That’s the first thing. And the second thing I would tell you is hip hop music. So a lot of people don’t know this about me. Hip hop is who I am. Leadership is what I do and a bond that my brother and I shared was a love of hip hop music and culture. And one of the honorable things that happened to me in the wake of his passing is that they did a Memorial service at the pier where his ship was based out of.
And all of these sailors who survived The Cole, came off the ship and said, “where is Anton.” And I’m like, I don’t know these guys at all. And they came over to me and they said, we just want to shake your hand and give you a hug because your brother was the hip hop guru on the ship. He knew everything about everything that was hip hop.
And he said that he learned it all from his big brother, Anton. So we just want to meet the man who taught Charon about hip hop because Charon taught all of us every day on the ship. So those are the two. That’s amazing. I love that. I have talked about this with other people too and actually remember this came up at the conference.
I am by education, a nurse practitioner. I worked in the emergency department for 10 years and I’ve seen death in a unique way many times. I’ve experienced it personally. I’ve also experienced professionally in many different capacities and I’ve had the unique opportunity to witness the visceral response to death.
Losses loss, but there is something that is uniquely different about sudden traumatic loss, especially again, losses, losses, not to diminish grief, but the fact is it is different. And I have seen that. What would you say to somebody right now who is struggling with loss and it could be many different forms, whether it be traumatic or just the loss of a loved one, especially now with COVID.I mean, this is a reality for more people than it has been in a very, very long time. What helped you move forward through loss?
Yeah, so great question. Loss is hard at any time, but when you lose a young person, I’m a parent losing a child or losing a sibling or a loved one prematurely. I mean, we all know that at some point we all are going to die, but whenever it’s premature unexpected, it is indelibly more painful than anything we’ve experienced.
What got me through is number one, my faith. I believe in God and know that he is the author and the finisher of my life. So that’s the first thing I would say is you gotta have some faith in some higher power because we all are not here by ourselves and there’s a design for us. And we just got to know what it is.
But the second thing that got me through is that I tried to honor my brother. And the way that he lives. And so what do I mean by that is that I tried to think about those fun ways in which he lived and made a difference in people’s lives and I tried to duplicate that. So here’s an example, Charon was 21 years old and I think it was about 20 years old at this point in time.
Now, just think about the average 20 year old, what do they do when you’re 20? You hang out with your friends, you party, you play video games, you do all of these fun things that tend to be very selfish. They’re about you enjoying yourself, but what Charon lived in Atlanta, Georgia. There was a husband and wife couple that lived across the street from them.
The couple was in their late twenties, early thirties, and they had three young children. And one day Charon was taking out the trash, talking to Brandon across the street. And Brandon says that since his kids were born, him and his wife. Hadn’t been able to go on a date because they had three young kids.
So Charon felt awful that he couldn’t take his wife out on a date. So he volunteered on a Friday night to say, I’ll babysit your three kids while you guys go out on a date and enjoy the town. I mean, I live right across the street from you. I’ll either come to your house so they can come over to where we are.
And he went to their house and a 20 year old served, a husband and wife couple, young firefighter. And I forgot what his wife did for a living, but allowed them to go on a date. So the operative word in my family has always been about service and I started to think about what Charon did, and he always found a way to serve.
Even before he joined the Navy, he worked at a hotel and he was always helping to serve the guests and picking them up from the airport and taking them to wherever they needed to be. I mean, he was that kind of guy. So how I found my way through is to find that thing, that your loved one used to do the most and enjoy the most, and that you remember them fondly for, and you find a way to replicate that in your life.
And for me, it was finding a way to serve other people. And when I did that, I found an incredible amount of healing for myself, that I was able to make a difference in the lives of other people. And so service became my prerequisite of leadership and that’s what I did. The whole concept of serving to heal is such an interesting dynamic because I think again, having experienced personal loss myself, it is so easy to become inward focused in your grief and that’s not wrong.
And it’s important to heal and to recognize what you have lost when I lost my best friend to breast cancer, not that long ago. And we were best friends for 20 years. And one of the things that acutely struck me is that all of the memories that just the two of us shared, we were best friends in high school.
We were roommates for all four years in college. I was now the only one that held those memories. And for some reason that just like, really hit me and it was hard to not get out of my own head, to feel like. It’s so easy for it to turn around and become about me and that concept of taking the grief and at some point you have to be able to turn it around and serve.
And I love that that was true of his life organically, but I think I would challenge anybody, listening that even if that wasn’t true of your loved one, organically, that whole concept, and there’s so much power in that idea, serving other people will help you heal and honor your loved one in the meantime.
So I love that, and listen, if there’s any 20 year old, Charon’s out there, you can feel free to buy the house next to the babysitter. Amen. Yes,I’ll take, I’ll be surrounded by 20 year old Charon’s come on over. Yeah, you know, you said something else very important is to acknowledge that the pain is real like I would say that I did take some time for myself.
And another thing I’m going to say is that a lot of people don’t want to acknowledge and starting to acknowledge more. You might need counseling. And I will tell you, I had a counselor that helped me through the early days of grief. And one of the things my counselor told me is take time to grieve. If you need to take a day or two or three or week, take the time that you need to grieve.
I mean, I never forget one day I was driving to class because I was in graduate school and a song came on the radio that emotionally just hit me because it was Charon was connected to the song. And I literally pulled over in a gas station parking lot and I cried in the car for 20 minutes. And when I finished, I felt better but I still didn’t feel like going to class. And I gave myself permission to turn around and go back home. And I actually went home and I stayed home for about an hour. And then I said, you know what, I’m going to do something that Charon and I would do together and I drove this, as dating myself. I drove to a record store or a CD store, and I literally stood in a store for an hour.
Coming through old records, digging in the crates sheets as Charon and I would call it finding old classic albums and songs that had great hip hop break beats over top of it. And so I spent the day kind of giving myself some therapy, took time for myself. And so take the time for yourself, but do get back to trying to make a difference for other people, because you will find some healing because there’s other people going through pain.
Some people think our work is worse than yours. And I know you feel like your grief might be the most devastating pain that anybody could ever have. But trust me, somebody is going through something worse. Sometimes it’s the people who survive. I mean, like Charon shipmates, the ones that made it back sometimes could live a life of pain blaming themselves.
For making it out and that they feel guilty that they didn’t do their part because they made it out. They didn’t make the ultimate sacrifice. So recognizing that there are people who are having pain and find a way to make a difference for them. I love that. Well, service has certainly been very true of your life as well.
You went from the O-line to office in 2008, you became the first African-American from your district to be elected to the South Carolina house of representatives. And I have to ask, was there a particular experience or moment because most people don’t wake up and they’re like, I’m going to go into politics.
I have never once in my life woken up and been like, you know what? I think I want to go into politics. So how did you go from being a young college athlete to this idea that I want to move into politics? How did that transpire ? Yeah. So everything’s tied in, in some ways. So first I’ll tell you this quick short story, is that I got married in 2004.
Excuse me, I got married in 2000 and 2004. We learned that we were going to have a baby. Did your wife just hear that? Okay. We’re going to give him some grace here,yeah. Give me some grace. I always talk about these together ,so the main point is that when we got married in 2000, I made a simple mistake on my health insurance application.
And so we learned that we were pregnant. We actually didn’t have maternity coverage and so we ended up spending about $17,000 out of pocket to pay for the birth and delivery of our baby girl. And the problem for me was my entire life, I grew up with health insurance coverage because my dad was in the military.
So I didn’t even know that there was this thing called the uninsured or the people called the uninsured people who didn’t have health coverage. And it bothered me because I made a simple mistake that the insurance company. You know, wouldn’t do what they should have done, which is say, you know what?
We know what you meant when you check the box in the wrong place, you checked maternity coverage on your name, but you didn’t check it on your wife’s name. We know that you can’t use my chart, they didn’t do that. They use the pretext, I mean, making a mistake to deny coverage of services and they did that for 50 million people every year.
Right? And it just pissed me off. It really did. And I spent a fair amount of my career early in the career, trying to be an advocate for people who are underserved. And I got tired of hearing politicians give platitudes to fixing what’s broken in healthcare, but not really doing it. And so I said, well, why am I begging you to do the right thing when you can’t seem to bring yourself to do it, let me go in there and show you how it’s done.
And that’s what I made a decision to run for public office in 2006. And I lost like everybody does when they ran for the first time. But two years later, I was actually successful getting elected to the South Carolina state legislature. And I got in there and went to make a difference. And they got Molly wop by partisanship and everything else that, um, we all despise when we see, uh, politics and public service.
I love the way that you’re communicating. I think this concept of politics can become such a heated word and I’m guilty of it as anybody. I mean, let’s just be honest. It is hard sometimes when politics are mentioned as sort of this instant elephant in the room, everyone’s like, ah, you’re kind of walking on eggshells. Um, but I love hearing the perspective from people who have been in politics, because I think it’s true that it’s so easy to lose the real life stories behind the people and people end up becoming a Democrat or Republican instead of Anton Gunn and Anna Fummer, you know, you lose sight of the people and the stories behind why they’re there. And for the majority of politicians, I have to remind myself this, there’s a person, there’s a story behind their passion. And if we heard those real life stories more, I think we would have more understanding for what they’re attempting to do in politics. So I just really love and value hearing that real life story.
You know, I’ll tell you there’s one last thing related to that. There are real people , I mean, it’s kind of like football. So, you know, hitting each other, people are hitting each other. They’re wearing different color jerseys. They got different teams on their jerseys, but also that there are people underneath those helmets and they come from different backgrounds.
They have different reasons of why they wanted to be in the sport and be at the school. Some people are trying to get away from something, other people are running towards something. I mean, that’s what I found in politics that I met some great friends that I’m still close to. A matter of fact, they’re like three Republicans that I’m really, really close to because we all are NASCAR fans, particularly Tony Stewart fans.
And so we formed what we call the smoke caucus in the state legislature, which is a group of guys who watched every NASCAR race that Tony Stewart was running in and was cheering him on. And, but if you saw us outside of the NASCAR environment, you would think these guys have nothing in common. He’s a Republican, he’s a Democrat.
He’s from this part of the state. He’s from that part of the state, they went to Clemson. He went to the University of South Carolina. You would see all of these differences, but we’re all real people. And we all, you know, live different lives now. And, um, I’m out of politics, a couple of other people out as well, but we still talk on social media and what each other have lunch every now and then.
So there are real people behind everything, and we have to remember that everything in government is really about the people and what I mean about the people we are, who we aspire to be. So if you want a better government, then you gotta aspire to be a better person. I think that’s the way it is.
I love that and we’ll dive into more of your expertise later, but at an even smaller scale, what I’m hearing you say is that one of the simplest ways of bridging the gap between the great divide that we see in so many ways, whether it be politics or race or religion is finding the common ground. Being able to find something to relate to the other person, to really bring out your collective humanity, because at the end of the day you whittle it all down.
Yes we’re diverse. We’re really the same. We have the same fears and struggles and that visceral emotion is really the same in all of us. And I just want to give a quick point to what you just said. I don’t know if you know this we’re actually adopting our fourth child. It will be a little boy from the Pacific Island of Samoa and yeah.
And when we first thank you. When we first introduced this to our kids, my son is 7 and he was asking me, what will his baby brother look like? And I realized this was a really good question. And I was having a hard time in his little brain. Actually, this was a cup of coffee, was probably 5 at the time.
So I Googled pictures and I brought up pictures of these little Samoan boys. And of course there was a lot of pictures of men and of all varying skin tones. They do tend to be brown. Some of them are much darker than others, but the point is, we’re looking at these pictures and I’m explaining what he might look like.
And Caleb looked at these pictures and he said, how come the boys have long hair? And I sat in their culture. A lot of them grow up their hair. And so he’s looking at these pictures and he said, mommy, I want to have long hair like my brother. And from then on, we started letting his hair grow. We just cut it, not that long ago because I couldn’t handle it anymore, hard for a five, six year old to take care of his hair.
But it brought me to tears because in that instant, my child, my very white child, looking at these little boys in his little mind, he didn’t see color as something that was going to be a problem for them or the struggles. He didn’t see this different culture and the fact that his surroundings would be so different that he literally saw, he wanted to have long hair like his brother.
He instantly found a way to relate and that was that. And it was just such a poignant moment for me that I need to be doing that in my own life. Even if I’m uncomfortable, we find a way to relate. So I love your example of that. Yeah, so I’ll definitely add on onto that. I think the most important thing, and this is what I teach leaders in business.
And when I work inside organizations, there are three fundamental questions and we can talk about it three questions later. But the first question is you have the answer to this, but every person that you meet in life, and this is a question that we’re all asking every day. I mean, every listener who’s listened to your podcast is asking you this question.
Every customer that comes into any business is asking this first question, when the question is, do you care about me? The second question is, will you help me? And the third question is, can I trust you. Now that first question is the most important one, because it’s hard to care about someone that you don’t know.
It’s hard to care about someone that you don’t understand. So what I teach leaders to do and what I spent my time doing in public service, and this is actually how I got elected is that I spent my time showing people that I cared about. What’s important to them and it’s not about what you say. People don’t want to hear your words, or I care about your honor, who I care about.
What’s important, you know, you don’t want to hit a word you want to see through their actions that you care about them, that they want to see that you care about them. And so your son was showing that he cares. By wanting to grow his hair, to reflect what he saw in his brother. And so a lot of us have to get to a place of literally showing people that we care.
And we can’t tell people that we care without actually doing something to show them that we care. And you can’t care about people you don’t know. So you gotta take the time to learn about people, learn their background, learn what’s important to them, where they come from, what makes them tick, what inspires and what motivates them, what pisses them off, what they hate about life, what they love about life, the struggle.
The highs, the lows, what their aspirations are. And so the best leaders are the ones that know the answer to every one of those questions on the teams that they lead. And I tried to do that in public service. And that’s why I built the friendships that I built is because I asked the question, what’s your favorite sport?
Is it football or is it something else? And when those guys said NASCAR, I was like, well, Hey, football is my number one, but guess what? I like NASCAR too, and I like Toyota, and I like Tony Stewart and I liked the 20 cars he’s driving in. And I shop at Home Depot and so all of this. Um, these opportunities to build bridges.
Now, if they had said lacrosse, you might’ve been like peace I’m out. I got nothing. Sorry. No lacks burrs here. We’ll chat later. So, oh my gosh. There’s so much, we’ll unpack more of that in the second half. I could go on for hours on so many of these things, but I want to highlight you then have the honor to serve as the senior advisor to president Barack Obama.
And I imagine that a position like that there has to be pressure challenges. I can’t imagine that politics are probably not the same in every position. There’s probably added pressures here and there, and there’s different expectations. And I think this is true of any career move or any goal that we have in life.
There are challenges that come with any, whether it be a lateral move or kind of a move up the ladder. Do you have any stories in that incredible experience of times where you made a mistake or there was a significant learning curve and you had to laugh at yourself, shake it off for maybe you had to cry first and then laugh and then shake it off that you could share.
Yeah, so way too many. I’ll put it to you that way. Here’s what I would say first and foremost, in anything in life for any leader out there. I have this phrase that I use the higher, the level, the bigger the devil. And what do I mean by that? Is that the higher you go up in leadership, the bigger, the obstacles that you will face, the enemies, the detractors, you name it, it will be the higher you go up, the bigger the devil.
So there are lots of spotlights when you work for the president of the United States. I mean, it was, uh, the greatest privilege of my life to serve my country in that way. And also to work for the present United States on an important issue, like healthcare reform. I’m actually like an Obamacare expert, if you will.
And so one of the things that I will tell you about it is what made it really, really hard is that it was difficult for me to see people attack Barack Obama, the way they did, knowing that we were only trying to do good and improve healthcare for those 50 million people who were like me screwed in 2004.
Right, and it was uneasy for me to see the anger and the hostility and me not take some ownership of that. And so I’ll never forget one day I literally had to sit in my car and cry because of an experience that I just had. So part of my job, I was kind of like a spokesperson on healthcare reform. So I would go on these radio shows, I would go speak at conferences and so I’m on a radio show. I’m on a calling in on the phone to this radio show and the radio host accuses me, accuses the president and accuses the affordable care act that if you sign up for Obamacare, that means you’re consenting. To have the government inject you with a microchip so they can track you.
Okay. That’s literally what the radio host said to me. And I was so flummoxed that I couldn’t believe that I was supposed to answer that question. And of course my job, I had to answer all questions and be honest and direct with people, but I couldn’t really keep a straight face and I did my best to answer it, but the guy just pounced on top of me even more, he just kinda like beat me up.
And he says, well thank you for coming on and he said something else, snarky. And then I got off the call, but I sat in the car and I cried because I really just wanted to cuss him out and just think about how that would have looked. For me to be on a national radio program, working for the president of the United States, cussing somebody out because they said something that they heard in the rumor mill somewhere that isn’t fact based or anything else, but you having to respond to it.
And it was hard for me at that moment. And I wanted to quit. I literally wanted to quit and I was like, this is for the birds. I can’t keep this up and I’m taking on too much of it. I’m owning too much of it. And what I ended up doing, is really taking a deep breath and recognizing that you can’t save everybody.
I mean, you can’t save everybody. The flight attendant on every flight will tell you before you try to help someone else put on their mask, you put your mask on first, right? And that point is, if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not going to be any good than anybody else. And so I was looking at how this was impacting my physical health.
I had gained like 200. I was overwhelmed over 200 pounds when I started to work for the president, but I gained another 50 pounds so I was over 300 pounds. At that point. I was not in the best shape. I was eaten bad. I was stressed and I was like, here, I am trying to talk to people about healthcare and why they should access healthcare, but I’m not in good health.
And so I realized that my devil was how I was taking care of myself and that I couldn’t do the point of teaching and sharing a good message that everybody, if I didn’t reflect, the change that I wanted to see in the world. And so that’s when I made a commitment to focus on myself and it gave me a sense of peace.
I stopped worrying and stressing about things that people would say. And again, just did everything that I can to share the best information, the right information, facts, to give people a chance, to make a decision and fit in their lifestyle, fit their budget and help them out of the situation they were in.
And I started talking to the person that Anton used to be when I was in 2004, having my first child and didn’t have health insurance competition. That’s what I focus on. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that, I think it’s so important for anybody hearing this to take away this idea that regardless of these very heated sides, whatever it is, whatever topic we’re talking about, true change is gonna happen.
And transformation happens when we start to see people’s hearts and not just the way they’re voting, not just the policies that they’re trying to put in place, or because I think I don’t know this, but I think this is true of other arenas, but even in politics, I can imagine that no matter which side you’re on, there’s probably a degree of sympathy and empathy that you have for each other, because you understand whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, or even just like two CEOs of different companies who may stand on very different sides of the equation.
There’s a level of empathy you have for each other because you understand what it’s like to truly have good heart intentions, and yet you’re slammed on all sides. So again, I think it’s that sense of grace and seeing people’s hearts, not just, yeah. Labeling them with whatever it is and the arena that we’re talking about.
Yeah, and I think you’re right. That the word grace is probably one that we all need to give a lot more of. I know I have been doing that in the middle of this pandemic that we’re still coming through. It’s just to have some grace and we would hospital workers, healthcare workers in general or food and beverage industry.
I mean, how many of us have gone to a restaurant to pick up food? And it took longer than we thought it was going to take, I mean, you got to give people some grace. I mean, it’s just, it’s hard right now. And so we gotta take the anger out of our hearts and out of our minds and just have a little bit more grace and just be a little bit more patient and recognize that we’re all humans, we all make mistakes and we gotta have some empathy for people.
And that’s what I try to do in every aspect of my work. I love that. What we’re going to take a really quick break, but we come back, stay tuned for a speed round of this or that with Anton and we’re going to learn a little bit more about Anton and practical ways that we can become admirable leaders at work and at home.
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Ooh, cookies and cream ice cream or mint chocolate chip. Vanilla.
Okay. So we’re going for, or I love it. Vanilla. Okay. Vanilla. I’m a little surprised I’m not going to lie. Sprinkles, anything on your vanilla? Nothing. There’s so many thoughts coming to mind there. I love that. Bonilla shattering, shattering ceilings here, NFL or college football college. Do you have one team that you especially follow?
I’m a Gamecock fan. I played there at the university of South Carolina, but kind of growing up. I was a Michigan fan. I had a cousin that played at Michigan, so I like to go blue, but I don’t like Jim Harbaugh. So I wish we get a new coach, but go ahead. Kendall or old fashioned book, old fashioned book.
Would you rather be a ninja or a pirate ninja, personal yacht or private jet? Private jet. What’s worse, laundry or dishes. This is Adam movie candy or popcorn, popcorn. All right. And this one, we’re bringing it back around full circle, rebel without a pause or fight the power rebel without a pause. I love that actually listened to those on YouTube.
I was like, oh, okay. Okay. So we were talking, oh my gosh, we’ve unpacked so many amazing things already. We could easily expand this way longer than an hour, but you are known for the concept of socially conscious leadership. What is socially conscious leadership? Why is it important and how does it contribute to that sense of an admirable leader?
Yeah, so very quickly, the context of socially conscious leadership recognizes that in the American workplace, people experienced injustice every day. I mean, when, I mean injustice, I want you to think about it in this way. Dismissed or disrespected by a colleague coworker or a boss. Sometimes it might even be something as bad as discrimination or some other adversity, harassment of some sort.
And it happens every day in the American workplace. But when it happens, nearly 50% of people never even knew that it happened. I mean, you could be on a team of people and you could be going through the greatest adversity of your life. But half the team has no idea that you’re experiencing that level of adversity.
If they don’t know any better, then they can’t do anything about the injustice that you’re experiencing. But then you have another 30%, 35% really of people in your organization who might’ve saw you face that injustice from a colleague or a coworker, but they don’t do anything about it. They literally saw what was wrong.
But they make excuses about why they can’t help you. Well, I don’t work in HR or I’m not the manager or that’s a different department. What can little old me do about a big problem like that? That’s another 35%. So 50% didn’t know any better. And they’re living in oblivion and 35% didn’t do anything because they got paralysis by analysis.
That’s about 85%, but then you have the 10% of people who literally other perpetuaters have this level of injustice because they literally believe that by keeping things unfair and unjust in the environment that they benefit in some kind of way from it they’d benefit morally socially, economically, financially that, Hey, you know, I’m going to leave things.
The status quo the way it is because I’m on top. And so I’m going to let people face injustice and everybody else not know what’s going on or feel disempowered to do anything about it. So 95% of people. Sit back and either don’t do anything about injustice or don’t even know what’s going on. Some even perpetuate, but I teach leaders how to be socially conscious and in the 5%.
And what do I mean socially conscious, that means do your part every day to have awareness about what’s going on around you. You have that awareness about building diverse relationships with people who are different than you, who share a different perspective. So if you’re a CEO and all you do is talk to people on the executive team, you’re socially blind to what’s going on in your company.
You need to be talking to frontline people. Okay? If you’re a parent and you don’t spend time having real conversation with your children, you’re socially blind to what’s going on in their life. Um, you lack the consciousness of what you can do to actually help them to be successful or to deal with the adversities that every one of us faces every day.
So I teach leaders how to have that social consciousness about the workplace to have no blind spots. If you will, by diversifying yourself, spending time with people who are different, literally asking people questions, what can I do to help you today? Or what can I do to make this a better place for you?
The more questions you ask, the more conscious you become about those things that are broken in. The more you can begin to take action to do something about it, because I fundamentally believe that as a leader, it’s your responsibility to make things right. And there’s never a wrong time to do the right.
I want to point out for people listening. When we talk about the concept of leadership and Anton, you kind of highlighted this already, but you may not hold a professional leadership role, or you may not see yourself as a leader in your workplace. But the fact is if you have children, if you have nieces, nephews, siblings, a little neighbor friend down the road, who’s over at your house with your kids, you are in a leadership role.
We really are all in leadership roles and you need to start thinking like one, and I’m speaking to myself as much as anybody. And what really resonates with me. And 10 about what you’re saying is year and a half ago, when. Just the whole black lives matter movement. And I was hearing stories that I had just never heard before and to make this personal, you know, I was that 50% a year and a half ago.
I just didn’t know. I was certainly like to think that in my heart, I’m not racist. I absolutely am imperfect. And I live by the grace of Jesus. But the fact is I was in that 50%. What you’re saying is I see that playing out over my life in the last year and a half is I was in the 50%. I’m not listening to these voices.
Some very well-spoken some not. So well-spoken some basically just making people, even angrier and creating even more of a divide, but some really, really well-spoken men and women, and I’m hearing their stories. So I move now from this 50% and I can no longer remain there because now I’m being told I’m ignorant.
Well, now I’m no longer ignorant, right? Like now I have to choose to become more involved and to try to educate myself. And I think that next step that I saw I needed to take was what you just highlighted is that sense of. Forcing diverse relationships, even if it feels one as, as a white woman to be completely transparent.
There’s times where you feel like you can’t ask questions because you’re unsure, will it be offensive? Will it be taken sometimes? I think you feel like you’re damned if you do. And you’re damned if you don’t, but when you don’t ask questions, it creates even more isolation and misunderstanding. And I had to humbly come before the Lord and be like, God, search me and know my heart and give me the insight to be able to ask questions and learn from people and what you’re talking about, forced relationships and forcing those relationships.
I think it’s a healthy concept. Where can I find people and ask questions of them to learn? That was not very well-spoken, but as you’re saying that I’m literally seeing my story over the last year and a half and kind of how. Processing that in my own life. And I appreciate your very clinical well-spoken approach to what that needs to look like.
Yeah. So I’ll just add onto that, that all of us, at some point in time in our lives are in the 50% we’re living in a living about something. So I’m a man. There are plenty of times in my life that my wife will tell me you’re living in oblivion about what women go through. Right. Then my 16 year old daughter also makes me aware that I’m living in oblivion about things that young women go through.
Okay. So we all are in the 50% at something in our lives. I mean, like so many people weren’t aware that police violence against. African-Americans were real until they saw George Floyd with a knee on his neck for 10 minutes. However, I was aware of it in 1991, when I saw Rodney king get beat 56 times by four Los Angeles police officers.
So at some point in time, we all are in the 50% and we come out of the 50%. But once you start to become aware, That injustice or unfairness exists in some way, shape or form. The question is, do you become paralyzed by what you now know or do you begin to empower yourself with information, with tools, with resources, with relationships, to say that, you know what, I can’t do everything on this issue, but there is something I can do.
I can vote. I can have a conversation with my mayor. I can go meet the chief of police and ask him how many incidences of police violence have we had in our city or our town, or I can go to a different community center and volunteer my time. I can go to a new church. I can go to somewhere to be around people who have a different perspective and a different world.
And again, go back to those three questions, answer those three questions for those folks, show them that you care about them, show them that you’re willing to help them and that you can. And that’s what a great leader will do is that you use the framework of those three questions to build new diverse relationships, and it’ll raise your social consciousness.
They will give you the ability to take action and then make a difference. And sometimes it’s not about changing the world is not trying to do the big thing, but it’s about making a difference for one person. The new friend that you made, or that friend that you had 20 years ago, that you hadn’t talked to in 20 years, that you went to high school, whether you went to middle school with, but as you played sports with, I mean, there’s something that you can do to make things right.
And it starts with getting out of your comfort zone, getting comfortable, being uncomfortable. I love the getting comfortable being uncomfortable. I don’t usually shy away from feeling uncomfortable, but I also. Sometimes I am too prideful in that. I don’t want somebody to think badly of me. And so sometimes that keeps me from just keeping my mouth shut, because I truly do want to love on people’s hearts, but sometimes you have this little narrow window of an opportunity and you feel like you don’t have enough time to really build that relationship.
So I’ll just give one little example of, I did this. This is really embarrassing, not that long ago, but I was seeing. African-American men and women wearing these shirts and hats that all said, God is dope. And I was like, why does that mean, I had no idea you’re laughing because there’s probably even a lot of white people listening to this being like, seriously, you didn’t know what that meant, but I didn’t know.
I could have Googled it. That would have been, but I just didn’t know. And so finally I asked one of my girlfriends who is African-American and she had a shirt on it and I said, okay, I have to ask, I do not know what is, God is dope. And she laughed. And it was like that instant. And we know each other there’s a mutual respect, but it was like that instant ICU, white girl kind of a laugh, but that’s just a raw, real life example.
And instead of just making assumptions and. Kind of taking something and associating it with a culture without full understanding. It was just a little way in which I wanted to understand. I was curious, was that a good thing or a negative thing? I didn’t know what it meant. So when you say be comfortable being uncomfortable, that is just a real life example that we just need to ask more questions and to the other person, I would say graciously give an answer.
She laughed at me, but I also fully understood you as just found it funny. Anyway, all that to say, ask the questions. You’re willing to give a gracious answer. Be willing to hear a hard answer. Let’s rewind again a little bit. What do you say to those leaders who are listening to this who are answering the questions they’re thinking through their own lives?
What is the most practical way to start moving to a greater position of. Leadership to be more founded in not just your own skills, but in that sense of you are admired as a leader, you kind of touched on those questions a little bit, but practically, what can we be doing to make that move in our lives?
Yeah, there was a lot of stuff that anybody can do to really want to have a bigger impact as a leader. And I have a lot of resources that I’ve made available for people that I have on my website. So if you go to Anton gunn.com/admired, I’m going to give you a one page worksheet to help you to become a more in my leader is really a worksheet that will help you to get some tools, some information, some way to think about yourself as a leader, to think about the role that you play inside your organization, inside your community, to make a difference, to get a deeper connection and to have a bigger impact.
And so if you go to Anton gunn.com/admired, there’s a worksheet there for all of your listeners that will help them to be a better leader. We’re going to have that on the show notes on my blog@hammersandhugs.com. I want you guys to all check that out and Antony, if people want to follow you and be able to just keep track of what you’re doing, where can they find you.
You can definitely find me at Anton J gun on the following social channels, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and the place that I spend the most of my time is on LinkedIn. So if you’re on LinkedIn, send me a message connect with me there. I love to help you and your organization become a better organization by building a world-class culture with diverse, high performing teams and great leaders that everyone will admire.
And I am so grateful that you’re here today. I admire you as a leader. You have already been so influential in my life. I’m grateful for you in a world where so few people in leadership positions are actually living out what they preach. I think. For being somebody who truly in so many ways is living out your message.
And I just pray. God’s richest blessing over your home, your wife, your daughter, and I look forward to chatting again. Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate the opportunity and it’s been a pleasure to be with you and keep doing the great work. Keep having an impact and making everything we need you in the world.
So keep working on it. Thank you. Thank you so much for joining us for this episode of the imperfectly empowered podcast. It is my honor to be here with you. I am so grateful for each and every one of you. If you were watching on YouTube, be sure to click the subscribe button below. So you don’t miss a show and leave a comment with your thoughts from today’s episode.
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We can’t tell people that we care without actually doing something to show them that we care. You got to take the time to learn about people, learn their background, learn what’s important to them, where they come from, what makes them tick? What inspires them, what motivates them, what pisses them off their struggles, where their aspirations are to the M perfectly empowered podcast with leading DIY lifestyle blogger on a Fullmer where women are inspired with authentic stories and practical strategies to reclaim their hearts and homes by empowering transformation, one imperfect data.
Welcome to another episode of the imperfectly empowered podcast. I am your host on a former today. It is my honor. And pleasure to introduce to you Anton Gunn. Anton is the former senior advisor to president Barack Obama and a leading authority on socially conscious leadership and international speaker and consultant.
He is the bestselling author of the presidential principles and renowned for his message on establishing world-class culture in the workplace by creating admired leaders featured by time magazine, the wall street journal, Inc magazine, BBC MBR, and good morning America. To name a few welcome admired leader and my friend Anton Gunn.
Well, Anton, welcome to the in perfectly empowered podcast. I am honored to have you here. You shifted your schedule around to be here and I am incredibly grateful. So for people listening and watching, I have to tell you a quick story about Anton. We met at a conference. And it was one of those conferences.
I mean, it was an amazing event, but it was the whole point of it was to network. So people would talk and then the rest of us would give feedback. And any time you’re at an event like that, there’s always a lot of feedback. And there’s so many great voices, but there’s fluff advice. And then there’s like advice that you can sink your teeth into.
And I remember the first time you got up and you gave your feedback to somebody. I remember doing one of these like, Hmm, like who is that? Who is that speaking? Because that was like, I was like, Hmm, this guy speaks my language. It’s advice that you can sink your teeth into. It’s not the fluffy kind that like a strong gust of wind would blow it away.
So that is my first impression of you is like, this is a guy that I need to talk to you because you do, you just are so good at giving feedback in a way that you can do something with you’re a doer, you’re a shaker and a mover, nothing flooding. About this man. So I think it was just a couple of years ago, one or two that you were playing football for the university of South Carolina.
Is that right? The old line to be exact? Well, you said a couple of years ago, let me be honest. I actually haven’t played college football in almost 30 years. Some people tell me I look a lot younger than I actually am, but my last college football season was 1994 and I feel like I’ve lived like 15 lives since then.
But yeah, football is a part of my life. I love it. It’s football season and, uh, college and pro doesn’t matter what you’re watching. It’s still a great time of year where people gather and enjoy the game. And the game was a big part of my. Well, I love that we’re huge football fans over here. I don’t know if you know this, but my husband’s been a coach for, I think, eight years now.
Yeah. High school coach. He was the head coach. He’s now working as an assistant because of all of our little Rascals running around. So we’re huge football fans over here. My kids have grown up on the sidelines in the stands. Is that going? I where my husband, I we’re both athletes and we know how valuable sports are not just for the competitive and the discipline aspect to it, but also the value in teaching and inspiring these concepts of leadership.
Not to mention diversity. It’s one of the rare places that people of all tongues, tribes and nations literally come together as one and play. They have the same goal in the end. How did your years in sports growing up help shape from a young age, that view of leadership and diversity in your experience?
Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think you’re so right. I mean, there was so many lessons that sports taught me both good and bad, and I always talk about them both. So first and foremost, when you’re an offensive lineman, the greatest lesson that you learn in sports, and when you playing offense of line is that it’s not about you.
Leadership is not about you. And what do I mean is not about you. You don’t ever really hear an offensive alignments name until they make a mistake. I mean, their whole job is to work hard so other people can get the glory and the success and the achievements. Then their role is as a background role.
That’s the lesson. Number one, lesson number two, that you can achieve anything by yourself. As an offensive lineman, you work as a unit. There are five people on the line. You have a center, you have two guards and two tackles. Those are the core of the opposite line. Sometimes you add a tight end, but generally speaking, it’s a center, two guards in two tackles.
And the main point is that you five have to work in unison. You have to be on the same page. Or as one of my coaches used to refer to it, we have to have the same heartbeat. We have to move in unison, know what each other’s doing, have each other’s back, be aware of what the challenges that the other person is dealing with at the other end of the offensive line.
And so those are two great lessons for every leader is number one. It’s not about you and you shouldn’t try to get all the credit, the team. Gets all the credit. Your job is to put people in position to be successful. And number two, you got to work collectively, if you want to achieve anything that matters.
And that’s literally what I learned from the office of line, but I played multiple positions before I was an officer’s lineman. I was a tight end in high school, and I used to catch the touchdowns. And so for me, that was about out thinking my opponent. So whenever you face opposition, you got to figure out how to beat the opposition or beat your competition if you will, whatever it is.
So when we are facing challenges in our organizations as leaders, you got to find a way to beat the opposition. That means you got to be on your a game all the time, and don’t take any play off. You gotta focus and get the job done. Those are some of the things that. Can you speak at all to, so you’ve played in South Carolina.
Can you think of a story or an example of a time where you may have had differences with a teammate off the field? Because what happens in the locker room is not what happens on the field and there’s this concept of you lay all of that. Aside. When you step on the field, you are one, you play together, you work together.
And I love that concept too, in sports because it speaks to this reality that I think we’ve really lost in our culture at the moment that even if you disagree off the field, out of work, that should not inhibit us from being able to work together in a respectful manner to achieve the same goal. Can you think of a time in your sports career or an example where you had to play that out with another teammate and you saw success in your ability to.
Grow and communicate and still work together despite off the field disagreement. Yeah. So I mean, all the time I played football in the Southeastern conference and the sec, and we had teammates who were from all over the country. I had a teammate who was from Compton, California, and went to high school in south central Los Angeles.
I also had a teammate from Oklahoma. Those two places could be more different. I grew up in beach, Virginia, uh, teammates from Georgia, Florida, Connecticut, from all kinds of places. Right? And so when people come from different backgrounds, they have different values and different things that are important to know that they care about.
And there are many times when we were off the field, those disagreements raised their head every day. I mean just how we saw things differently, how we communicated. I can’t tell you how many off the field fights that people had in the dorm room or arguing over girlfriends and over who took my $20 off my desk or.
Who threw my notebook away. I mean, it doesn’t matter what it was. Those things happen off the field, but sometimes they actually carried onto the field, but they played themselves out and healthy competition. I remember two teammates who one was from Florida and other ones from Georgia. They were on two different sides of all, one office, one defense, their lockers were like five people apart.
The numbers were different. 45 and 50. They argued like crazy in the locker room and LTV. I don’t know what it was. I don’t know what the situation was. I think it started with joking on each other. But when we got on the practice field, they literally started to call each other. And a drill and the coach said, well, let’s get it on.
And so they went head to head in a drill and you know what it did more than anything else. It galvanized the rest of the team watching these two men go at it fiercely because we knew that there was a backstory of what was going on, but when it came to game time, They both had each other’s back unequivocally because we all wore the same Jersey.
And so it’s never into this place where you want to just say, I want to go along and get along. And I’m just going to assume that we all have to be the same. No, you can talk out your differences. You can hash out the differences. But the most important thing is to remember that there is a team and that team is more important than any individual.
And there’s a mission, a game plan, a playbook or goal for the team. And if you don’t do your part, if you let your personal issues get in the way of the team, you won’t achieve the success that you hope to achieve. I love it. It’s hilarious. As you’re talking, I’m thinking like, geez, this sounds like my marriage.
It’s like any relationship, right? I mean, even in marriage, when you are in the same home environment, it’s like, all right, we are on opposite sides of the ball right now. We need to duke it out. But at the end of the day, we are on the same team as we raise our kids as we go through life. But I love the entire concept of success is not the absence of struggle.
It’s not the absence of disagreement and differences. It’s how do we succeed? Maybe even because of those. Yes. Anyway, well, I love sports. I can do an hour just talking about sports, but yeah, we’ll move on. Their Booker T Washington has this amazing quote. He said success is to be measured, not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.
And that quote is really all about what this podcast stands for and talking about struggles and how we overcome about 21 years ago. Now, I think it was, you faced an obstacle that few in life ever faced, let alone overcome. Tell us a little bit about what happened in October of 2000. Yeah, that’s a great place to start.
I actually remember it as if it was yesterday. It was a Thursday morning, 8:30 AM. I get up? I was in graduate school in South Carolina. I get up and I’m getting dressed, getting ready to go to class. And I’m watching today’s show as I do every morning before I leave the house. And I hear on the news that there was an explosion of board, a United States ship called the U S as cold.
And my brother at the time was in Navy and I knew his ship was traveling on the ocean, but I didn’t know they were in a port in the middle east. And I hear this on the news that morning. And my mom calls me an hour later and says, that was your brother’s. And I was like, well, how do you know that? I just emailed with him.
He told me they were in the middle of the ocean. And she says, no, I got an email from him on Monday saying that they were going to port in the middle east and he’s on the coal. And that was a cold. But what we would later learn that day at about four 30 that afternoon, that my brother and 16 of his shipmates were killed by two Al suicide bombers, as they were attacking the U S as cold as it was in a port in Yemen.
Uh, the port of Aden came in, which is a country in the middle east. And there were 39 others that were injured. And it was one of the most devastating days of my life, because here’s the context that I want to tell you, this is going to be easy for some to understand. We recently celebrated veterans day and there are four generations of men in my family who are veterans.
So my great grandfather served in both world wars. My grandfather served in world war II. Margo Clarence was a career war veteran. My uncle, LG Vietnam veteran. My dad was a Vietnam and there’s a storm veteran and my dad’s baby brother and my uncle lucky was in bootcamp when the Vietnam war ended. So every generation of men in my family had put on a uniform the same way my brother did, but three generations served in combat and they came home.
However, in 2000, this was before nine 11, before most people had any idea who was Sama bin Laden was who Al Qaeda was. My younger brother was murdered killed by two Al Qaeda suicide bombers when they attack the United States ship. And when it happened, I can’t even explain to you how many ways. I was broken as a human being because I’m the one I’m the oldest of four boys.
And this is my younger brother. Okay. And he was my biggest responsibility. I’ll never forget when I was seven years old, my mom sat him on the couch beside me, as she went upstairs to go feed the baby brothers. I have twins who are baby brothers. She went to go feed the twins and she put my brother on the couch and she says that you let anything happen to him.
Don’t you let them fall and you let them get hurt. If anything happens to him, it’s going to happen to you. You know, that’s what moms tell the siblings. And so I took it very seriously responsibility of looking out for my little brothers and helping to shape their lives and helping them to make good decisions.
So to lose my brother and his way was devastating. And I really wanted to give up a life and just go home and hug my mom, my dad, and protect my two baby brothers from any harm. And it was just incredibly impossible and I can’t stress how hard it was. And here we are, 21 years later. I still feel the pain of that day.
It doesn’t get any better. It just gets different. But instead of giving up on life, I use it as few to try to make a difference in this world and to try to make sure that I leave a legacy in, you know, you talked about Booker T Washington’s quote of success. I have a second quote comes from Dr. Miles Monroe, and that quote is success without a successor is a failure.
And if you don’t use your gifts and your talents to leave the world a better place for those that come along after you, you might be successful in life, but you will never be significant. And so in the wake of my brother’s tragic. I don’t want to chase success. I want to chase significance and making a difference in people’s lives.
And that’s why I do what I do every day. Helping leaders build a better culture in their workforce, in their organization. And in honor of your brother, his name, is it Sharon, was that his name? Cheryl? Cheryl done. He was about 22 year old brother at the time, five years younger than me when he was killed.
And so I lost his life at 22. He’s buried in Arlington national cemetery. So do you ever visit Arlington national cemetery? He’s in section 60 and as his grave, marker is 77 63. He will love to see you come back and pay your respects if you ever there. Yeah. And a note to my producer to make sure that goes on our show notes and we’ll honor him in that way.
What was your favorite thing about Sharon? When you think of him, what first comes to. Two things come to mind. Number one, the Oakland Raiders are now the Las Vegas Raiders. He was a diehard greatest fan. I mean, when I say diehard, I mean, like when they lose a game, he would like take his Jersey off and throw it on the floor and just, it was a brave man to be passionate about the Oakland Raiders.
All right. All right. Yeah. That’s the first thing. And the second thing I would tell you is hip hop music. So a lot of people don’t know this about me. Hip hop is who I am. Leadership is what I do and a bond that my brother and I shared was a love of hip hop music and culture. And one of the honorable things that happened to me in the wake of his passing is that they did a Memorial service at the pier where his ship was based out of.
And all of these sailors who survived the cold, came off the ship and said, we’re. Anton. And I’m like, I don’t know these guys at all. And they came over to me and they said, we just want to shake your hand and give you a hug because your brother was the hip hop guru on the ship. He knew everything about everything that was hip hop.
And he said that he learned it all from his big brother, Anton. So we just want to meet the man who taught Sharon about hip hop because Serona taught all of us every day on the ship. So those are the two. That’s amazing. I love that. I have talked about this with other people too. And actually remember this came up at the conference.
I am by education, a nurse practitioner. I worked in the emergency department for 10 years and I’ve seen death in a unique way. Many times. I’ve experienced personally. I’ve also experienced professionally in many different capacities and I’ve had the unique opportunity to witness the visceral response to death.
Losses loss, but there is something that is uniquely different about sudden traumatic loss, especially again, losses, losses, not to diminish grief, but the fact is it is different. And I have seen that. What would you say to somebody right now who is struggling with loss and it could be many different forms, whether it be traumatic or just the loss of a loved one, especially now with COVID.
I mean, this is a reality for more people than it has been in a very, very long time. What helped you move forward through loss? Yeah, so great question. Loss is hard at any time, but when you lose a young person, I’m a parent losing a child or losing a sibling or a loved one prematurely. I mean, we all know that at some point we all are going to die, but whenever it’s premature unexpected, it is indelibly more painful than anything we’ve experienced.
What got me through is number one, my faith, I believe in God and know that he is the author and the finisher of my life. So that’s the first thing I would say is you got to have some faith in some higher power because we all are not here by ourselves and there’s is a design for us. And we just got to know what it is.
But the second thing that got me through is that I tried to honor my brother. And the way that he lives. And so what do I mean by that is that I tried to think about those fun ways in which he lived and made a difference in people’s lives. And I tried to duplicate that. So here’s an example. Sharon was 21 years old and I think it was about 20 years old at this point in time.
Now, just think about the average 20 year old, what do they do when you’re 20? You hang out with your friends, you party, you play video games, you do all of these fun things that tend to be very selfish. They’re are about you enjoying yourself, but what’s your own lived in Atlanta, Georgia. There was a husband and wife couple that lived across the street from them.
The couple was in their late twenties, early thirties, and they had three young children. And one day Sharon was taking out the trash, talking to Brandon across the street. And Brandon says that since his kids were born, him and his wife. Hadn’t been able to go on a date because they had three young kids.
So Sharon felt awful that he couldn’t take his wife out on a date. So he volunteered on a Friday night to say, I’ll babysit your three kids while you guys go out on a date and enjoy the town. I mean, I live right across the street from you. I’ll either come to your house so they can come over to where we are.
And he went to their house and a 20 year old served a husband and wife, couple young firefighter. And I forgot what his wife did for a living, but allowed them to go on. Mm. So the word, the operative word in my family has always been about service. And I started to think about what Sharon did, and he always found a way to serve.
Even before he joined the Navy, he worked at a hotel and he was always helping to serve the guests and picking them up from the airport and taking them to wherever they needed to be. I mean, he was that kind of guy. So how I found my way through is to find that thing, that your loved one used to do the most and enjoy the most, and that you remember them fondly for, and you find a way to replicate that in your life.
And for me, it was finding a way to serve other people. And when I did that, I found an incredible amount of healing for myself, that I was able to make a difference in the lives of other people. And so service became my prerequisite of leadership and that’s what I did the whole concept of. Serving to heal is such an interesting dynamic because I think again, having experienced personal loss myself, it is so easy to become inward focused in your grief and that’s not wrong.
And it’s important to heal and to recognize what you have lost when I lost my best friend to breast cancer, not that long ago. And we were best friends for 20 years. And one of the things that acutely struck me is that all of the memories that just the two of us shared, we were best friends in high school.
We were roommates for all four years in college. I was now the only one that held those memories. And for some reason that just like really hit me and it was hard to not get out of my own head, to feel. It’s so easy for it to turn around and become about me and that concept of taking the grief. And at some point you have to be able to turn it around and serve.
And I love that that was true of his life organically, but I think I would challenge anybody, listening that even if that wasn’t true of your loved one, organically, that whole concept, and there’s so much power in that idea, serving other people will help you heal and honor your loved one in the meantime.
So I love that. And listen, if there’s any 20 year old, Sharon’s out there, you can feel free to buy the house next to babysitter men. Yes. I’ll take, I’ll be surrounded by 20 year old. Sharon’s come on over. Yeah. You know, you said something else very important is to acknowledge that the pain is real now. I would say that I did take some time for myself.
And another thing I’m going to say that a lot of people don’t want acknowledge and starting to acknowledge more. You might need counseling. And I will tell you, I had a counselor that helped me through the early days of grief. And one of the things my counselor told me is take time to grieve. If you need to take a day or two or three or week, take the time that you need to grieve.
I mean, I never forget. One day I was driving to class cause I was in graduate school and a song came on the radio that emotionally just hit me because it was Sharon was connected to the song. And I literally pulled over in a gas station, parking lot and I cried in the car for 20 minutes. And when I finished, I felt.
But I still didn’t feel like going to class. And I gave myself permission to turn around and go back home. And I actually went home and I stayed home for about an hour. And then I said, you know what, I’m going to do something that Sharon and I would do together. And I drove this as dating myself. I drove to a record store or a CD store, and I literally stood in a store for an hour.
Coming through old records, digging in the crates as, as Sharon and I would call it finding old classic albums and songs that had great hip hop break beats over top of it. And so I spent the day kind of giving myself some therapy, took time for myself. And so take the time for yourself, but do get back to trying to make a difference for other people, because you will find some healing because there’s other people going through pain.
Some people think our work is worse than yours. And I know you feel like your grief might be the most devastating pain that anybody could ever have. But trust me, somebody is going through something worse. Sometimes it’s the people who survive. I mean, like shrone shipmates, the ones that made it back sometimes could live a life of pain blaming themselves.
For making it out and that they feel guilty that they didn’t do their part because they made it out. They didn’t make the ultimate sacrifice. So recognizing that there are people are having pain and find a way to make a difference for them. I love that. Well, service has certainly been very true of your life as well.
You went from the O line to office in 2008, you became the first African-American from your district to be elected to the South Carolina house of representatives. And I have to ask, was there a particular experience or moment because most people don’t wake up and they’re like, I’m going to go into politics.
I have never once in my life woken up and been like, you know what? I think I want to go into politics. So how did you go from being a young college athlete to this idea that I want to move into politics? How did that translate? Yeah. So everything’s tied in, in some ways. So first I’ll tell you this quick short story is that I got married in 2004.
Excuse me. I got married in 2000 and 2004. We learned that we were going to have a baby. Did your wife just hear that? Okay. We’re going to give him some grace here. Yeah. Give me some grace. I always talk about these together. So the main point is that when we got married in 2000, I made a simple mistake on my health insurance application.
And so we learned that we were pregnant. We actually didn’t have maternity coverage. And so we ended up spending about $17,000 out of pocket to pay for the birth and delivery of our baby girl. And the problem for me was my entire life. I grew up with health insurance coverage because my dad was in the military.
So I didn’t even know that there was this thing called the uninsured or the people called the uninsured people who didn’t have health coverage. And it bothered me that because I made a simple mistake that the insurance company. You know, wouldn’t do what they should have done, which is say, you know what?
We know what you meant when you check the box in the wrong place, you checked maternity coverage on your name, but you didn’t check it on your wife’s name. We know that you can’t use my chart. They didn’t do that. They use the pretext, I mean, making a mistake to deny coverage of services. And they did that for 50 million people every year.
Right. And it just pissed me off. It really did. And I spent a fair amount of my career early in the career, trying to be an advocate for people who are underserved. And I got tired of hearing politicians give platitudes to fixing what’s broken in healthcare, but not really doing it. And so I said, well, why am I begging you to do the right thing when you can’t seem to bring yourself to do it, let me go in there and show you how it’s done.
And that’s what I made a decision to run for public office in 2006. And I lost like everybody does when they ran for the first time. But two years later, I was actually successful getting elected to the South Carolina state legislature. And I got in there and went to make a difference. And they got Molly wop by partisanship and everything else that, that, um, we all despise when we see, uh, politics and public service, I love the way that you’re communicating.
I think this concept of politics can become such a heated word and I’m guilty of it as anybody. I mean, let’s, let’s just be honest. It is hard sometimes when politics are mentioned as sort of this instant elephant in the room, everyone’s like, ah, you’re kind of walking on eggshells. Um, but I love hearing the perspective from people who have been in politics, because I think it’s true that it’s so easy to lose the real life stories behind the people and people end up becoming.
A Democrat or Republican instead of Anton Gannon on a former, you know, you lose sight of the people and the stories behind why they’re there. And for the majority of politicians, I have to remind myself this there’s a person. There’s a story behind their passion. And if we heard those real life stories more, I think we would have more understanding for what they’re attempting to do in politics.
Love and value hearing that real life story you will, you know, I’ll tell you there’s one last thing related to that. There are real people. I mean, it’s kind of like football. So, you know, hitting each other, people are hitting each other. They’re wearing different color jerseys. They got different teams on their jerseys, but also that there are people underneath those helmets and they come from different backgrounds.
They have different reasons of why they wanted to be in the sport and be at the school. Some people are trying to get away from something other people are running towards something. I mean, that’s what I found in politics that I met some great friends that I’m still close to. A matter of fact, Three Republicans then I’m really, really close to because we all are NASCAR fans, particularly Tony Stewart fans.
And so we formed what we call the smoke caucus in the state legislature, which is a group of guys who watched every NASCAR race that Tony Stewart was running in and was cheering him on. And, but if you saw us outside of the NASCAR environment, you would think these guys have nothing in common. He’s a Republican, he’s a Democrat.
He’s from this part of the state. He’s from that part of the state, they went to Clemson. He went to the university of South Carolina. You would see all of these differences, but we’re all real people. And we all, you know, live different lives now. And, um, I’m out of politics, a couple of other people out as well, but we still talk on social media and what each other have lunch every now and then.
So there are real people behind everything, and we have to remember that everything in government is really about the people and what I mean about the people we are, who we aspire to be. So you want better government, then you got to aspire to be a better person. I think that’s the way it is. I love that.
And we’ll dive into more of your expertise later, but at an even smaller scale, what I’m hearing you say is that one of the simplest ways of bridging the gap between the great divide that we see in so many ways, whether it be politics or race or religion is. Finding the common ground, being able to find something to relate to the other person, to really bring out your collective humanity, because at the end of the day you whittle it all down.
Yes. We’re diverse. We’re really the same. We have the same fears and struggles and that visceral emotion is really the same in all of us. And I just want to give a quick point to what you just said. I don’t know if you know this we’re actually adopting our fourth child will be a little boy from the Pacific island of Samoa and yeah.
And when we first thank you. When we first introduced this to our kids, my son is. And he was asking me, what will his baby brother look like? And I realized this was a really good question. And I was having a hard time in his little brain. Actually, this was a cup of coffee, was probably five at the time.
So I Googled pictures and I brought up pictures of these little Samoan boys. And of course there was a lot of pictures of men and of all varying skin tones. They do tend to be brown. Some of them are much darker than others, but the point is, we’re looking at these pictures and I’m explaining what he might look like.
And Caleb looked at these pictures and he said, how come the boys have long hair? And I sat in their culture. A lot of them grow up. Their hair. And so he’s looking at these pictures and he said, mommy, I want to have long hair. Like my brother. And from then on, we started letting his hair grow. We just cut it, not that long ago because I couldn’t handle it anymore hard for a five, six year old to take care of his hair.
But it brought me to tears because in that instant, my child, my very white child, looking at these little boys in his little mind, he didn’t see color as something that was going to be a problem for them or the struggles. He didn’t see this different culture. And the fact that his surroundings would be so different that he literally saw, he wanted to have long hair like his brother.
He instantly found a way to relate. And that was that. And it was just such a poignant moment for me that I need to be doing that in my own life. Even if I’m uncomfortable, we find a way to relate. So I love your example of that. Yeah. So I’ll definitely add on onto that. I think the most important thing, and this is what I teach leaders in business.
And when I work inside organizations, there are three fundamental questions and we can talk about it three questions later. But the first question is you have the answer to this, but every person that you meet in life, and this is a question that we’re all asking every day. I mean, every listener who’s listened to your podcast is asking you this question.
Every customer that comes into any business is asking this first question, when the question is, do you care about me? The second question is, will you help me? And the third question is, can I try. Now that first question is the most important one, because it’s hard to care about someone that you don’t know.
It’s hard to care about someone that you don’t understand. So what I teach leaders to do and what I spent my time doing in public service, and this is actually how I got elected is that I spent my time showing people that I cared about. What’s important to them. And it’s not about what you say. People don’t want to hear your words, or I care about your honor, who I care about.
What’s important. You know, you don’t want to hit a word you want to see through their actions that you care about them, that they want to see that you care about them. And so your son was showing that he cares. By wanting to grow his hair, to reflect what he saw in his brother. And so a lot of us have to get to a place of literally showing people that we care.
And we can’t tell people that we care without actually doing something to show them that we care. And you can’t care about people you don’t know. So you got to take the time to learn about people, learn their background, learn what’s important to them, where they come from, what makes them tick, what inspires and what motivates them, what pisses them off, what they hate about life, what they love about life, the struggle.
The highs, the lows, what their aspirations are. And so the best leaders are the ones that know the answer to every one of those questions on the teams that they lead. And I tried to do that in public service. And that’s why I built the friendships that I built is because I asked the question, what’s your favorite sport?
Is it football or is it something else? And when those guys said NASCAR, I was like, well, Hey, football is my number one, but guess what? I like NASCAR too. And I like Toyota. And I liked Tony Stewart and I liked the 20 cars of these driving. And I shop at home Depot. And so all of this. Um, these opportunities to build bridges.
Now, if they had said lacrosse, you might’ve been like peace I’m out. I got nothing. Sorry. No lacks burrs here. We’ll chat later. So, oh my gosh. There’s so much, we’ll unpack more of that in the second half. I could go on for hours on so many of these things, but I want to highlight you then have the honor to serve as the senior advisor to president Barack Obama.
And I imagine that a position like that there has to be pressure challenges. I can’t imagine that. Politics are probably not the same in every position. There’s probably added pressures here and there, and there’s different expectations. And I think this is true of any career move or any goal that we have in life.
There are challenges that come with any, whether it be a lateral move or kind of a move up the ladder. Do you have any stories in that incredible experience of times where you made a mistake or there was a significant learning curve and you had to laugh at yourself, shake it off for maybe you had to cry first and then laugh and then shake it off that you could share.
Way too many. I’ll put it to you that way. Here’s what I would say first and foremost, in anything in life for any leader out there. I have this phrase that I use the higher, the level, the bigger the devil. And what do I mean by that? Is that the higher you go up in leadership, the bigger, the obstacles that you will face, the enemies, the detractors, you name it, it will be the higher you go up, the bigger the devil.
So there are lots of spotlights when you work for the president of United States. I mean, it was, uh, the greatest privilege of my life to serve my country in that way. And also to work for the present United States on an important issue, like healthcare reform. I’m actually like an Obamacare expert, if you will.
And so one of the things that I will tell you about it is what made it really, really hard is that it was difficult for me to see people attack. Barack Obama, the way they did, knowing that we were only trying to do good and improve healthcare for those 50 million people who were like me screwed in 2004.
Right. And it was uneasy for me to see the anger and the hostility and me not take some ownership of that. And so I’ll never forget one day I literally had to sit in my car and cry because of an experience that I just had. So part of my job, I was kind of like a spokesperson on healthcare reform. So I would go on these radio shows.
I would go speak at conferences. And so I’m on a radio show. I’m on a calling in on the phone to this radio show and the radio hose accuses me, accuses the president and accuses the affordable care act that if you sign up for Obamacare, that means you’re consenting. To have the government inject you with a microchip so they can track you.
Okay. That’s literally what the radio host said to me. And I was so flummoxed that I couldn’t believe that I was supposed to answer that question. And of course my job, I had to answer all questions and be honest and direct with people, but I couldn’t really keep a straight face and I did my best to answer it, but the guy just pounced on top of me even more, he just kinda like beat me up.
And he says, well thank you for coming on. And he said something else, snarky. And then I got off the call, but I sat in the car and I cried because I really just wanted to cuss him out and just think about how that would have been. For me to be on a national radio program, working for the president of the United States, cussing somebody out because they said something that they heard in the rumor mill somewhere that isn’t fact based or anything else, but you having to respond to it.
And it was hard for me at that moment. And I wanted to quit. I literally wanted to quit and I was like, this is for the birds. I can’t keep this up. And I’m taking on too much of it. I’m owning too much of it. And what I ended up doing. Is really taking a deep breath and recognizing that you can’t save everybody.
I mean, you can’t save everybody. The flight attendant on every flight will tell you before you try to help someone else put on their mask, you put your mask on first, right? And that point is, if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not going to be any good than anybody else. And so I was looking at how this was impacting my physical health.
I had gained. Like 200. I was overwhelmed over 200 pounds when I started to work for the president, but I gained another 50 pounds. So I was over 300 pounds. At that point. I was not in the best shape. I was eaten bad. I was stressed. And I was like, here, I am trying to talk to people about healthcare and why they should access healthcare, but I’m not in good health.
And so I realized that my devil was how I was taking care of myself and that I couldn’t do the point of teaching and sharing a good message that everybody, if I didn’t read it, The change that I wanted to see in the world. And so that’s when I made a commitment to focus on myself and it gave me a sense of peace.
I stopped worrying and stressing about things that people would say. And again, just did everything that I can to share the best information, the right information, facts, to give people a chance, to make a decision and fit in their lifestyle, fit their budget and help them out of the situation they were in.
And I started talking to the person that Anton used to be when I was in 2004, having my first child and didn’t have health insurance competition. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. I think it’s so important for anybody hearing this to take away this idea that regardless of these very heated sides, whatever it is, whatever topic we’re talking about, true change is going to happen.
And transformation happens when we see. To see people’s hearts and not just the way they’re voting, not just the policies that they’re trying to put in place, or because I think I don’t know this, but I think this is true of other arenas, but even in politics, I can imagine that no matter which side you’re on, there’s probably a degree of sympathy and empathy that you have for each other, because you understand whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, or even just like two CEOs of different companies who may stand on very different sides of the equation.
There’s a level of empathy you have for each other because you understand what it’s like to truly have. Good heart intentions, and yet you’re slammed on all sides. So again, I think it’s that sense of grace and seeing people’s hearts, not just, yeah. Labeling them with whatever it is and Irina that word.
Yeah. And I think you’re right. That the word grace is probably one that we all need to give a lot more of. I know I have been doing that in the middle of this pandemic that we’re still coming through. It’s just to have some grace and we would hospital workers, healthcare workers in general or food and beverage industry.
I mean, how many of us have gone to a restaurant to pick up food? And it took a long. Then we thought it was going to take, I mean, you got to give people some grace. I mean, it’s just, it’s hard right now. And so we got to take the anger out of our hearts and out of our minds and just have a little bit more grace and just be a little bit more patient and recognize that we’re all humans, we all make mistakes and we got to have some empathy for people.
And that’s what I try to do in every aspect of. I love that. What we’re going to take a really quick break, but we come back, stay tuned for a speed round of this or that with ant. And we’re going to learn a little bit more about antenna and practical ways that we can be come admirable leaders at work and at home.
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Perfectly empowered journal tab to sign up for a free issue of the imperfectly empowered journal. Today, we are back with Anton Gunn ant and we’re going to play a speed round of this or that you get two options. You don’t have to think about them too hard, and we will get started with burger or hot dog, hot dog.
Ooh, cookies and cream ice cream or mint chocolate chip. Vanilla.
Okay. So we’re going for, or I love it. Vanilla. Okay. Vanilla. I’m a little surprised I’m not going to lie. Sprinkles, anything on your vanilla? Nothing. There’s so many thoughts coming to mind there. I love that. Bonilla shattering, shattering ceilings here, NFL or college football college. Do you have one team that you especially follow?
I’m a Gamecock fan. I played there at the university of South Carolina, but kind of growing up. I was a Michigan fan. I had a cousin that played at Michigan, so I like to go blue, but I don’t like Jim Harbaugh. So I wish we get a new coach, but go ahead. Kendall or old fashioned book, old fashioned book.
Would you rather be a ninja or a pirate ninja, personal yacht or private jet? Private jet. What’s worse, laundry or dishes. This is Adam movie candy or popcorn, popcorn. All right. And this one, we’re bringing it back around full circle, rebel without a pause or fight the power rebel without a pause. I love that actually listened to those on YouTube.
I was like, oh, okay. Okay. So we were talking, oh my gosh, we’ve unpacked so many amazing things already. We could easily expand this way longer than an hour, but you are known for the concept of socially conscious leadership. What is socially conscious leadership? Why is it important and how does it contribute to that sense of an admirable leader?
Yeah, so very quickly, the context of socially conscious leadership recognizes that in the American workplace, people experienced injustice every day. I mean, when, I mean injustice, I want you to think about it in this way. Dismissed or disrespected by a colleague coworker or a boss. Sometimes it might even be something as bad as discrimination or some other adversity, harassment of some sort.
And it happens every day in the American workplace. But when it happens, nearly 50% of people never even knew that it happened. I mean, you could be on a team of people and you could be going through the greatest adversity of your life. But half the team has no idea that you’re experiencing that level of adversity.
If they don’t know any better, then they can’t do anything about the injustice that you’re experiencing. But then you have another 30%, 35% really of people in your organization who might’ve saw you face that injustice from a colleague or a coworker, but they don’t do anything about it. They literally saw what was wrong.
But they make excuses about why they can’t help you. Well, I don’t work in HR or I’m not the manager or that’s a different department. What can little old me do about a big problem like that? That’s another 35%. So 50% didn’t know any better. And they’re living in oblivion and 35% didn’t do anything because they got paralysis by analysis.
That’s about 85%, but then you have the 10% of people who literally other perpetuaters have this level of injustice because they literally believe that by keeping things unfair and unjust in the environment that they benefit in some kind of way from it they’d benefit morally socially, economically, financially that, Hey, you know, I’m going to leave things.
The status quo the way it is because I’m on top. And so I’m going to let people face injustice and everybody else not know what’s going on or feel disempowered to do anything about it. So 95% of people. Sit back and either don’t do anything about injustice or don’t even know what’s going on. Some even perpetuate, but I teach leaders how to be socially conscious and in the 5%.
And what do I mean socially conscious, that means do your part every day to have awareness about what’s going on around you. You have that awareness about building diverse relationships with people who are different than you, who share a different perspective. So if you’re a CEO and all you do is talk to people on the executive team, you’re socially blind to what’s going on in your company.
You need to be talking to frontline people. Okay? If you’re a parent and you don’t spend time having real conversation with your children, you’re socially blind to what’s going on in their life. Um, you lack the consciousness of what you can do to actually help them to be successful or to deal with the adversities that every one of us faces every day.
So I teach leaders how to have that social consciousness about the workplace to have no blind spots. If you will, by diversifying yourself, spending time with people who are different, literally asking people questions, what can I do to help you today? Or what can I do to make this a better place for you?
The more questions you ask, the more conscious you become about those things that are broken in. The more you can begin to take action to do something about it, because I fundamentally believe that as a leader, it’s your responsibility to make things right. And there’s never a wrong time to do the right.
I want to point out for people listening. When we talk about the concept of leadership and Anton, you kind of highlighted this already, but you may not hold a professional leadership role, or you may not see yourself as a leader in your workplace. But the fact is if you have children, if you have nieces, nephews, siblings, a little neighbor friend down the road, who’s over at your house with your kids, you are in a leadership role.
We really are all in leadership roles and you need to start thinking like one, and I’m speaking to myself as much as anybody. And what really resonates with me. And 10 about what you’re saying is year and a half ago, when. Just the whole black lives matter movement. And I was hearing stories that I had just never heard before and to make this personal, you know, I was that 50% a year and a half ago.
I just didn’t know. I was certainly like to think that in my heart, I’m not racist. I absolutely am imperfect. And I live by the grace of Jesus. But the fact is I was in that 50%. What you’re saying is I see that playing out over my life in the last year and a half is I was in the 50%. I’m not listening to these voices.
Some very well-spoken some not. So well-spoken some basically just making people, even angrier and creating even more of a divide, but some really, really well-spoken men and women, and I’m hearing their stories. So I move now from this 50% and I can no longer remain there because now I’m being told I’m ignorant.
Well, now I’m no longer ignorant, right? Like now I have to choose to become more involved and to try to educate myself. And I think that next step that I saw I needed to take was what you just highlighted is that sense of. Forcing diverse relationships, even if it feels one as, as a white woman to be completely transparent.
There’s times where you feel like you can’t ask questions because you’re unsure, will it be offensive? Will it be taken sometimes? I think you feel like you’re damned if you do. And you’re damned if you don’t, but when you don’t ask questions, it creates even more isolation and misunderstanding. And I had to humbly come before the Lord and be like, God, search me and know my heart and give me the insight to be able to ask questions and learn from people and what you’re talking about, forced relationships and forcing those relationships.
I think it’s a healthy concept. Where can I find people and ask questions of them to learn? That was not very well-spoken, but as you’re saying that I’m literally seeing my story over the last year and a half and kind of how. Processing that in my own life. And I appreciate your very clinical well-spoken approach to what that needs to look like.
Yeah. So I’ll just add onto that, that all of us, at some point in time in our lives are in the 50% we’re living in a living about something. So I’m a man. There are plenty of times in my life that my wife will tell me you’re living in oblivion about what women go through. Right. Then my 16 year old daughter also makes me aware that I’m living in oblivion about things that young women go through.
Okay. So we all are in the 50% at something in our lives. I mean, like so many people weren’t aware that police violence against. African-Americans were real until they saw George Floyd with a knee on his neck for 10 minutes. However, I was aware of it in 1991, when I saw Rodney king get beat 56 times by four Los Angeles police officers.
So at some point in time, we all are in the 50% and we come out of the 50%. But once you start to become aware, That injustice or unfairness exists in some way, shape or form. The question is, do you become paralyzed by what you now know or do you begin to empower yourself with information, with tools, with resources, with relationships, to say that, you know what, I can’t do everything on this issue, but there is something I can do.
I can vote. I can have a conversation with my mayor. I can go meet the chief of police and ask him how many incidences of police violence have we had in our city or our town, or I can go to a different community center and volunteer my time. I can go to a new church. I can go to somewhere to be around people who have a different perspective and a different world.
And again, go back to those three questions, answer those three questions for those folks, show them that you care about them, show them that you’re willing to help them and that you can. And that’s what a great leader will do is that you use the framework of those three questions to build new diverse relationships, and it’ll raise your social consciousness.
They will give you the ability to take action and then make a difference. And sometimes it’s not about changing the world is not trying to do the big thing, but it’s about making a difference for one person. The new friend that you made, or that friend that you had 20 years ago, that you hadn’t talked to in 20 years, that you went to high school, whether you went to middle school with, but as you played sports with, I mean, there’s something that you can do to make things right.
And it starts with getting out of your comfort zone, getting comfortable, being uncomfortable. I love the getting comfortable being uncomfortable. I don’t usually shy away from feeling uncomfortable, but I also. Sometimes I am too prideful in that. I don’t want somebody to think badly of me. And so sometimes that keeps me from just keeping my mouth shut, because I truly do want to love on people’s hearts, but sometimes you have this little narrow window of an opportunity and you feel like you don’t have enough time to really build that relationship.
So I’ll just give one little example of, I did this. This is really embarrassing, not that long ago, but I was seeing. African-American men and women wearing these shirts and hats that all said, God is dope. And I was like, why does that mean, I had no idea you’re laughing because there’s probably even a lot of white people listening to this being like, seriously, you didn’t know what that meant, but I didn’t know.
I could have Googled it. That would have been, but I just didn’t know. And so finally I asked one of my girlfriends who is African-American and she had a shirt on it and I said, okay, I have to ask, I do not know what is, God is dope. And she laughed. And it was like that instant. And we know each other there’s a mutual respect, but it was like that instant ICU, white girl kind of a laugh, but that’s just a raw, real life example.
And instead of just making assumptions and. Kind of taking something and associating it with a culture without full understanding. It was just a little way in which I wanted to understand. I was curious, was that a good thing or a negative thing? I didn’t know what it meant. So when you say be comfortable being uncomfortable, that is just a real life example that we just need to ask more questions and to the other person, I would say graciously give an answer.
She laughed at me, but I also fully understood you as just found it funny. Anyway, all that to say, ask the questions. You’re willing to give a gracious answer. Be willing to hear a hard answer. Let’s rewind again a little bit. What do you say to those leaders who are listening to this who are answering the questions they’re thinking through their own lives?
What is the most practical way to start moving to a greater position of. Leadership to be more founded in not just your own skills, but in that sense of you are admired as a leader, you kind of touched on those questions a little bit, but practically, what can we be doing to make that move in our lives?
Yeah, there was a lot of stuff that anybody can do to really want to have a bigger impact as a leader. And I have a lot of resources that I’ve made available for people that I have on my website. So if you go to Anton gunn.com/admired, I’m going to give you a one page worksheet to help you to become a more in my leader is really a worksheet that will help you to get some tools, some information, some way to think about yourself as a leader, to think about the role that you play inside your organization, inside your community, to make a difference, to get a deeper connection and to have a bigger impact.
And so if you go to Anton gunn.com/admired, there’s a worksheet there for all of your listeners that will help them to be a better leader. We’re going to have that on the show notes on my blog@hammersandhugs.com. I want you guys to all check that out and Antony, if people want to follow you and be able to just keep track of what you’re doing, where can they find you.
You can definitely find me at Anton J gun on the following social channels, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and the place that I spend the most of my time is on LinkedIn. So if you’re on LinkedIn, send me a message connect with me there. I love to help you and your organization become a better organization by building a world-class culture with diverse, high performing teams and great leaders that everyone will admire.
And I am so grateful that you’re here today. I admire you as a leader. You have already been so influential in my life. I’m grateful for you in a world where so few people in leadership positions are actually living out what they preach. I think. For being somebody who truly in so many ways is living out your message.
And I just pray. God’s richest blessing over your home, your wife, your daughter, and I look forward to chatting again. Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate the opportunity and it’s been a pleasure to be with you and keep doing the great work. Keep having an impact and making everything we need you in the world.

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