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It was surreal. We were pulling up to the ghetto, extended-stay motel after school. This was going to be home for the next seven days. I could barely make out precisely what Dad said that afternoon. Fortunately, we got most of our belongings out of our home before the sheriff escorted us off the property. But that night I will never forget. At sixteen, we were homeless, and we were broke. We had to pray that night for food— God answered with dozens of Crispy Crème donuts from a church fundraiser one day and pizza the next from remarkable people. It's taken me twenty years to unlearn limited mindsets and beliefs around God, his provision, and finances. But that's a whole book, let alone a blog post. However, I learned a few lessons from that time that helped me be a leader worth following, and I wanted to pass them on to you.

FIVE LEADERSHIP LESSONS HOMELESSNESS TAUGHT ME

 

1. You can be honest and optimistic even in down times.

I'm not sure if a psychologist would necessarily agree with how my parents raised my four siblings and I, but one thing my father was stellar at was giving us the cold hard facts, and then still being seemingly positive in the midst of the turmoil. As I think back, it must have been devastating for my father, who was the same age then as I am now. He never wavered in giving us the information we needed. Can you imagine telling your kids to pack up every Friday and get everything in the van before you go to school because you don't know if you will have the money to get a hotel for the next week? Yet, Dad made those moments bearable; I might even use the word fun.

2. You can't control the external world, but you can control yourself.

This is so important, and while I didn't fully grasp the importance of this until years later, I innately knew that how I conducted myself at school would determine how others saw me. For good or ill, popular teens don't understand how to include someone out of their league, but all I had to do was control myself in those groups. Act the part, and you were assumed to be the part. While the outside world is out of my control, I can control how I act, think, communicate, and work. There are things I can control, and those are the things that can get us out of any hole if I'm willing to take ownership of those things in my control. As a Leader, many things will happen that are out of our control. But how we respond is up to us.

3. Failure is only the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one, not the end of the book.

You have heard it said that Failure is never final. This is so true. Death is final. Failure is Conflict. Failure is the central ingredient in every story worth telling. Without it, there is no story. Homelessness wasn't something that defined me unless I let it. It was a setup for a Zero to Hero story. We often fail in our careers, businesses, or even in church. We come up against an obstacle, but my friend, the Failure is the cliffhanger. It's the end of one chapter. The next chapter is about how you get up after being knocked down. My father and mother dug out of the hole, and we got into a new place in a new state five months later. The story is what you do to overcome your obstacle, and that determines how the story ends. And in those moments, if you die fighting–what a glorious death! The fight to not letFailuree define you and to turn your setbacks into comebacks is what the story is about and what people will remember about you.

4. Don't waste a crisis. It's the best time to rally people around a mission and vision for a better future.

This one is so important. I have seen this repeatedly: In the moments of crisis, the best leaders rally the people, remind them of the mission and, project a vision of the future that is better than today, and inspire them to act toward that preferable future. And you know what, it works. Nothing is better at focusing and congealing people than a crisis, and nothing is more unifying and powerful than a leader who projects mission and vision in those moments. They call out the greatness in each of us. We can do something more significant than any one of us could think of. I got a job painting that summer with my dad to help our family dig out of the hole; my brothers and sisters worked hard to ensure the places we stayed were clean and taken care of so the motel would let us back. We all pitched in every way we could. Don't waste a crisis. Find the will to project vision and mission and call people to rise to the challenge, and they will more than meet it; it will become a defining moment when we serve as leaders in that way.

5. When you need help, ask for it.

If there is a silent killer in leadership, it is pride. It keeps us silent because we are afraid that if they saw our flaws or weaknesses, we would be thought less of or dismissed. But as I have watched over the years, the best leaders ask for help when they need it before a crisis becomes a reality. It's one of the reasons they are so successful. This is one of the most significant differences between successful and unsuccessful people. While my father was great in many areas, this was one of his downfalls. He didn't like asking for help. He just kept trying to do it himself. My mother, on the other hand, was the exact opposite. She was the relentless beggar who wouldn't let you leave until she got what she needed. But it wasn't the real help she asked for– It was a handout. Successful people look for hand-ups. They aren't beneath showing vulnerability. They lay it on the line to improve. I think leaders understand this innately. They have a vision they are pressing toward, and it's often too big and challenging to achieve alone. So, they enlist others to bring their skills to the table. Leaders are the quintessential askers. They have learned to have my mother's tenacity, with the emotional intelligence that wins people to their side; they ask for a hand up.
If you're out there and in the middle of a crisis, Maybe it's your own doing, but know that you, too, can lead your way out of the valley. No mistake is too great to be knocked down forever. Leadership might look different in the future, but you can make it. And If you're in a crunch because of something out of your control, know that you can learn to lead through those moments, too. It's how you lead in those moments that will define your leadership. I hope you can use what I learned to propel you into victory!
Chestly Lunday

Chestly Lunday

Chestly Lunday led two pioneering national research studies on emerging generational trends in technological engagement and faith to help faith-based organizations shift their practices to reach young people. He is an expert in Organizational Leadership, Digital Transformation, and Intergenerational Team-Building and a sought-after international speaker. Chestly was an Airman in the Air National Guard, has started two non-profits, and three businesses. Currently, he coaches entrepreneurs of young, fast-growing business with 10-50 employees to grow their time, and team and profits without burning out. Chestly's insights have helped many leaders grow their organizations in a disruptive time of generational and technological change.

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