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When I was 10 years old my family moved from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico. During my early years in the DR, my family saw a lot of people struggling in extreme poverty. However, living in Puerto Rico from age 10 until I was 16 was better, because we had a bigger home and food. That was all I knew until I decide to move to the United States to attend college without knowing a word of English.

I had the culture shock of my life getting off the airplane in Iowa. What did I see? Cornfields – everywhere! I thought I was going to be moving to the most beautiful city in the world. I’d seen pictures of New York City skyscrapers and city lights – and that’s what I was expecting. However, what I got was much different. The acculturation process was also a challenge. Some students that came from farm families – can you believe that many had never seen a black person before? And many did not know how to act around immigrants. As a Latino, I am very proud of my heritage. Most importantly, I will always be grateful to those who mentored and educated me during those critical years.

After I graduated I became an American citizen and decided to thank my new country by serving in the US NAVY-R as a Naval officer. At the same time, I worked my way up the corporate ladder and experienced financial success well beyond my dreams as a small boy or the teenager learning English in Iowa. Then I woke up one day in the late 1990s – it was my “aha” moment that changed me from the inside. I was on a mission trip – experiencing (from the other side) what it was like to help others. And with no disrespect to the organizers—the trip was a total failure. Unbeknown to us, we were not helping people, we were only helping ourselves feel better – oblivious to the unintended consequences of our actions. Those that planned the trip had great intentions but sometime good intentions hurt. I felt sick. I knew it could be done better, but only if the entire approach shifted. Short-term mission or work of social justice has a purpose, but the same actions are rarely effective long-term. I knew helping people could be done in a way that was inclusive and sustainable. Now it was my time to give back. I was ready for all the changes that it could bring because the rewards went far deeper than anything money could buy.

Leadership identification and development is at the heart of ImpactLives’ efforts. Why? Because learning about yourself, about others, understanding your intrinsic motivation – and then using that knowledge to lead and influence  - this is an education that you will never forget after class is dismissed. It cannot be turned off or undone. Accompany that knowledge with works of social justice and critical reflection – and it seems incredibly silly and even absurd to take actions that are only transactional and serve only to feed the egos of those who paid money for a “make me feel good experience.” The theories and actions behind this are the heart and soul behind my doctoral work in Global Contextual Leadership. Everything in my life, including my experience as a small boy who wondered about poverty and where his next meal would come from – paved the way for a new level of insight and motivation for me to create transformational change. As Albert Einstein said, “Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.” That’s how ImpactLives was born.

Life is meant to be experienced with one’s open mind, open heart and intelligence of the will. Are you ready? Welcome to the journey!

Posted by on in General

What is it about ourselves that we want to so quickly move away from what we do best and the traits we are naturally wired to do well – and instead focus on what needs the most improvement?  One explanation may be our natural curiosity for what we don’t know. Even as kids, we were constantly looking and asking for the toys we didn’t have. Or we wondered what was hidden behind the door. What we couldn't see was intriguing and we didn’t want to miss out on anything.

As a part of our strengths-based Leadership Development training, ImpactLives helps participants know and understand their “Top 5.” These “Top 5” are one’s top five themes as determined after taking an on-line assessment administered by Gallup Strengths Center. In reality, we each have all 34 themes – and for a larger fee, one can take the assessment and get all 34 themes in rank order. If we were just able to see the full list, would our curiosity be satisfied and then we could settle in to just concentrate on our Top 5?

At ImpactLives we adhere to the positive psychology foundation and encourage people to just get their Top 5 themes and to not worry about number 6 through 34.  Despite our explanations and rationale, invariably the comments arise…”I just want to know my number 6 through 10,” or “I want to take the assessment again and get my bottom 5.”

Are we such a product of our “work-on-our-negatives” culture that we can’t simply focus on what we do well? My recommendation for you is to give it a shot! It’s very rewarding, and life moves forward with a bit more ease. For me, I still have plenty of challenge left to figure out how to use my Top 5 (Connectedness, Responsibility, Relator, Learner and Input) for the good of ourselves, friends, family members, workmates and ImpactLives’ participants. It’s a rewarding journey!

Critical thinking is a hot topic. Corporate recruiters test for it. Job seekers boast of having it in spades. Why? Because people know it’s really hard to teach when it’s not approached properly. Traditional ways of learning don’t generally do the trick. Let’s break it down.

People who think critically (and consistently) are able to live rationally, make reasonable choices and have empathy to understand how actions affect others? They know that when left unchecked, the inherently flawed nature of human thinking leaves a lot of holes for unintended consequence to work their way in.

ImpactLives guides and teaches participants how to think differently. Critical thinking is great even in a vacuum – but critical reflection happens when people translate their thinking into their experiences and actions. Learning about ideas or theories in a book or by listening to a lecture – that’s a great first step. But apply that learning to an experience and it’s even better. Apply it to experiences where people are interacting and having relationships with others – helping others – this moves learning from one’s head to their heart. There is growing evidence that the identification of such methods, tools and experiences is essential for the development and preservation of healthy environments; environments from which catalysts for change can emerge. Suddenly there’s more motivation to do the right thing, and to not hurt people. To not “undo” the work that’s been done. The result? Participants intrinsically learn to WANT to think of the things that could go wrong, that could unintentionally happen, and that could cause problems.

This is why ImpactLives teaches participants root cause analysis and critical thinking as an essential part of our teaching curriculum. Critical reflection happens at all stages – before, during and after each project or experience. This is how the learning sticks. And how it becomes a sustainable way of thinking for the next time someone needs to address a new problem!

Posted by on in General

I recently returned from leading a group of adults through a 10-day ImpactQuest leadership development experience to the Dominican Republic.  While I love to have the “veterans” return for the second, third or fourth time, I get such joy out of seeing people experience a new culture for the first time – it must the be “Developer” in me!

During the first day of these experiences we spend time setting expectations and dealing with questions. I always ask about fears and concerns – it helps each participant know he or she is not alone when there are common fears and concerns shared, and this exercise gives me insight into how people are processing and areas about which I need to be extra-sensitive. 

On that first day and throughout the experience, it not uncommon to hear concerns expressed such as:

“Will I get to know anyone here?” 

“My life is so different than any of the men, women and children here!” 

“The language barrier is significant and I don’t know if I can or will connect!” 

As they looked around – EVERYTHING in the Dominican Republic seemed so different from our homes in the Midwest. Nothing seemed the same – from skin color to language, to the look of the homes, to what they eat, to safety standards, to noise levels. 

And then one day, as we visited the ImpactLives’ land and checked in with two of our neighbors, Wendy and Marcella, one of the participants from Nebraska named Rita had her “ah ha!” moment. She realized that we are more alike than we are different. Here’s how it came about.

Rita had just reached a significant milestone: five years of being cancer free. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and is now considered a breast cancer survivor. In conversation (through an interpreter), Rita found out that Wendy was going in that week for a similar procedure. There it was…an immediate and powerful connection between these two women. All elements of differences melted away and Rita was able to share her story, answer Wendy’s questions, give encouragement, cry with Wendy, and leave her with a big hug and promise to pray for her daily.

We never know, do we? Don’t let any obvious differences blind you to what you have in common and what you share with others. This is transformational growth that Rita could not have learned in a book or classroom. It’s through these moments that we touch each other’s hearts deep inside and we learn the most about ourselves, others – and how we may actually be more alike than we are different.