23 Mar Find Great People. Empower Them. Step Away
Last night I attended The Commonwealth Club Inforum’s event that honored Dave Eggers, founder of 826 Valencia, founder and editor of McSweeney’s, and a renowned author. Dave was awarded Inforum’s 21st Century Visionary Award for his humanitarian work in helping children with their writing skills as well as to get access to college education.
At 826 Valencia, children aged six to eighteen read books and articles, discuss the writing, and write. With the help of volunteer tutors, these children advance their comprehension and writing skills. And with the support of the scholarship fund raised by this organization, some students went on to college.
Running 826 Valencia, a nonprofit organization, takes passion, dedication, and management skills. It was clear that Dave is passionate about teaching children. He described a book discussion session with the students: “It was electrifying to see ideas fly in the discussion. I get energized. I can’t sleep after listening to their ideas!” His face lit up when he recounted the story.
At 826 Valencia, children learn in a supportive environment where they can be creative and feel validated. No ideas are too bizarre for writing. Here is an example of a students’ writing: Werewolves let you down. This piece makes me chuckle. Dave went on to say that in their Storytelling and Bookmaking workshop, students collaborate to create a story. The organization supports them by printing their story into a book. Imagine that! A book. Nicely bound, with pictures, and words written by the children. These children feel validated and are enthusiastic to read and write more.
An audience member asked how Dave invoked his writing muse. Dave said he would go to his shed for eight hours of isolated time and sat in his writing position. Here’s the insight: Dave is just like us! Dave admitted that he would procrastinate and do other things except writing. After six and a half or seven hours, and knowing that his kids would be home and he’d be having dinner soon, he started writing. The audience laughed. We all have been there!
826 Valencia has chapters all over the US: New York, Seattle, Washington DC, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Los Angeles, and Boston. Dan Moulthrop, the interviewer, asked Dave how he managed 826 Valencia. Dave said, “Find great people, empower them, and step away.” Dave noted that when you empower your employees and trust them, they’ll do amazing things.
How true. Once you have your great employees, give them the authority to do their work, give them the space to be creative to solve problems, and don’t micromanage.
Employees will need your support, however. Check in with your employees regularly, acknowledge their efforts, and ask them how you can help them. Create structures and processes to support employee development. Identify projects that are challenging, interesting, and that provide learning opportunities. Encourage employees to present their wild and crazy ideas at work. And foster a work environment where employees can have uninterrupted time to think, to solve problems, and be creative.
Find great people, empower them, and step back. And watch your employee engagement and productivity grow!