Think about someone recently that captivated you or inspired you. What was the one thing that made their message memorable, stand out from other speakers or made you look up from your iPhone? The most connected leaders always have stories. Stories that are constant, current, entertaining and relevant to their cause.

Last week was a big week, focused heavily on developing the next generation. The message to the youth of today was clear: Find your cause and match it to your talents. If you have a job today, you’re already at a competitive disadvantage. You need to connect to a cause to work fewer days and be competitive in the most competitive work environment we’ve ever seen. It’s about self-awareness, and self-awareness keeps you connected to your environment.

Connected leaders keep the video camera running, connecting what is happening around them to their cause or vision.  The individuals that captivated me most last week had stories to tell. Their stories were powerful, intriguing and significant.

Frank Sesno asked me a question at the end of GW’s Planet Forward event, remembering a story I told a few years ago, “Jeff, seeing that girl in Brazil that hadn’t eaten in days, is that real?” My mind immediately went back to April 2000 in Brazil. The image was crystal clear – a five year old girl embarrassed and ashamed to be standing at the door asking for food. Stories bring back real images and create a clear vision.

To move any cause forward, it’s going to take connected leaders.

CHALLENGE: When was the last time you told a great story? If you haven’t, are you really connected?


Activism with Actions


We speak up for the things we truly believe in; for the things that move us to action without considering the repercussions. We sometimes can’t help it. We speak more clearly and without concern about political correctness. This is activism –being an activist for your personal cause.

Activists are typically viewed negatively because you see them as those who oppose your own view. Instead, we should see ourselves as activists for what we believe. The world needs more activists —  more people who aren’t satisfied just talking about their beliefs, but instead act on them to see change and make a difference – in their community and the world. My personal cause is clearly food security.

This week at the World Food Prize, and specifically the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) program, I experienced a “balcony moment” as multiple leaders spoke clearly and passionately about our common cause of food security. These leaders weren’t just engaging in a theoretical discussion. From a politician to a dietitian to a CEO – they were taking bold stands about not just what they believe in, but the actions they were taking. They’ve had ENOUGH talk and are stepping up with action. What you believe doesn’t matter if you don’t act on it.

Will you join us?

Speak up and sign up for the future of food security and make this part of your personal cause. Do this as a symbol of standing up for your passions and increasing activism in your life.

 Join the ENOUGH moment and use the resources on to have clear, powerful conversations about the realities of food security. Engage in the #FeedThe9 conversation online and in your community. You can affect change for a better tomorrow.

CHALLENGE: Move your beliefs to actions. Become an activist. Start with the ENOUGH movement. Visit to sign up and learn more.



“Where there is no vision, the people perish” – Proverbs 29:18

A compelling vision outlines a grand purpose and paints a future picture.  Vision is fueled by good news, and leaders find that fuel. My vision is a food secure world.  And, the good news for me this week is that extreme poverty has been cut in half, and 3 billion people are moving into the middle class with improved lives and improved diets. It’s not just about extreme hunger. It’s about having the ability to replace a Pop-Tart with an egg.

What’s your personal vision?

The visions of great leaders like Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. not only moved others, but moved others to act. Everyone needs a vision. But, that vision doesn’t have to be Nelson Mandela-sized. It needs to be you-sized. Start with yourself.

Set a vision that’s:





Challenge: With vision you can live your life and not perish. Are you living your life with vision, or not?   



There’s no question that our lives are busier than ever. That we’re more connected than ever. And that we’re continuously pulled from one direction to the next. How do we succeed in such a fast-paced, hectic world? Fanatic discipline. I believe fanatic discipline is the next generation’s greatest advantage.

Being disciplined and making time for moments of quiet among the distractions and noise is hard. Yesterday, I was on a plane where every passenger had access to WIFI and many were buried in their electronic devices. This morning, I was at a stop light where drivers on my left and right were on their phones. Fanatic discipline is our greatest advantage.

Many colleagues and coworkers heard Jim Collins speak this week at a conference in Indianapolis. He spoke about fanatic discipline and how those that exemplify it are non-conformists, consistent in action and disciplined in thought. In his book Great by Choice, Collins says to achieve consistent performance you must have “…the ambition to achieve and the self-control to hold back.”

If you haven’t read the book, read it. Chapter 3 is a great chapter. In it, Collins tells a story of the 20 mile march between two teams competing to be the first to the South Pole. In their pursuit, one team consistently hit performance markers over a long period of time. The other team did not.  Guess which team won? He also tells a story about Southwest Airlines and how despite a declining industry, the airline generated profit every year for 30 consecutive years.

Consistency and discipline overcomes mediocrity.

Challenge: Where in your life can you apply more consistency and discipline?


I heard a compelling story one month after 9/11; a story about tremendous leadership. What played out in this story 12 years ago was an example of emotional intelligence (EQ), the ability to manager yourself and relationships, being stronger than intellectual intelligence (IQ). On 9/11 a window washer stepped into a World Trade Center elevator with several executives and ended up saving their lives. Read the original story below and ask yourself, would you have picked the window washer to lead the men to safety? The key point here: everyone can learn to lead.

From a Voice of America broadcast on April 15th, 2002
See: “Window Washer – World Trade Center Hero”
Copyright 2002 Voice of America

On September 11, 2002 the National Museum of American History in Washington will open an exhibit of artifacts connected with last year’s terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Among these artifacts will be a squeegee – a simple tool used by window washers to scrape water off glass. Today on New American Voices we introduce you to the immigrant from Poland who used that squeegee to save the lives of six people caught in an elevator on the 50th floor of the burning North Tower of the World Trade Center.

September 11, 2001 began just like any other day for World Trade Center North Tower window washer John Demczur. He began work at six in the morning. At eight he took a coffee break, and after breakfast went to the 44th floor to take an express elevator to the 74th floor, where he planned to start washing the inside windows.

“I stepped into the elevator. I had my tools with me – bucket, water, some rags, squeegee. When I stepped into the elevator there were five men inside the elevator. The door closed normally and we went up, and in a few minutes the elevator was going down, it was shaking from side to side, banging. And I said, ‘Something’s wrong!'”

The elevator stopped, smoke started coming in, but the men inside had no way of knowing what the problem was. Prying open the elevator door they saw a blank wall with a big number 50 painted on it. The men tried kicking the wall, but this proved fruitless. John Demczur, who had previously worked in construction, saw that it was drywall, and knew that it could be cut or broken with a sharp object.

“I was asking for a knife, but nobody had anything. Then I looked into my bucket and I said,’Well, let me use my squeegee’. How I have this idea… Just instinct, do something, try to do something.”

The squeegee is a thin hard rubber blade set on a 15-centimeter metal handle, which in turn fits onto a wooden broomstick. The men used the broomstick to jam the doors open, and took turns scratching at the wall with the squeegee.

“We don’t know how dangerous the situation is, and we don’t panic, we just start doing something. The only focus was on this wall. We make a little hole, just find out the thickness is three inches, and I say, well, this is going to be a lot of work.”

It took the men a long 45 minutes to cut a hole in the 8-centimeter-thick wall large enough for them to get through. On the other side were tiles. They kicked in the tiles, and one by one squirmed through the hole into what turned out to be a bathroom on the 50th floor. Nobody was there except firefighters, who hustled the men into the smoke-filled staircase and down 50 flights of stairs. John Demczur says that only minutes after they got out of the building, it collapsed.

“I still doesn’t know anything about why this happened, who did this, I’m looking for another building and I don’t see this building. My brain stopped working. After that I just wanted to be with my family, with my children and wife, my head was just focused – be with the family.”

Mr. Demczur says he put the squeegee in his pocket and forgot about it. Some time later, his wife found it on the floor of a closet along with his dirty window washer’s uniform. The Smithsonian Institution, which runs the National Museum of American History, became interested in it when Mr. Demczur’s story appeared in media reports about survivors of the World Trade Center disaster. A museum curator visited Mr. Demczur in his home in Jersey City, and talked him into parting with the squeegee.

“He described me about Smithsonian Museum, and he said, ‘You know this is very interesting, that handle is supposed to have a special place for it, because it saved six lives.'”

Earlier this month, John Demczur was honored at a Smithsonian Institution ceremony, at which he officially gave the squeegee to the museum, where it will become an artifact of American history.

John Demczur immigrated to the United States 20 years ago, when he was 27, from Poland, where his Ukrainian family lived. After finishing high school he became a plumber, and worked in construction, putting plumbing into new houses. When he first arrived in the United States, he found work as a plumber but ten years ago switched to window washing. He says he has been able to create a good life for himself and his wife and two children.

“We both together working, we have a house, living in Poland I could never have a house, here any kind job you do – I window cleaner – make not bad money, children teenagers, they go to school, I think I stay here because better future is – maybe not for me, but for our children is better future here.”

John Demczur says his life has changed since September 11th. He still suffers from headaches and sleeplessness, and is still not working. But he has been honored as a hero by the window washers’ union, and his story has been reported in newspapers as far away as Bahrain, Austria, Poland, Ukraine. He seems to be somewhat dazed by all the attention.

“As if I did something big. I just saved myself, and the other people who were with me in the elevator also helped me do the hole in the wall, and we escaped together. I think I’m a little hero, but the real heroes are the people who lost their lives in the World Trade Center.”

Nevertheless, the simple squeegee on display at the museum of American History will remind visitors for years to come of the window washer who saved six lives. Next week on New American Voices we’ll introduce you to a Tibetan lumberjack turned Voice of America broadcaster.

“Principal-based” Leadership

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The month of August was full of tremendous headwinds. Unexpected events and situations within my community, church, personally and business that brought about direct or indirect change, volatility and even tragedy. I had the opportunity to observe individuals in the midst these crises and changes lead exceptionally or, to the other extreme, not. The common thread – whether exemplified or not – was principal-based leadership.

Principal-based leadership is a type of leader that galvanizes a following. I believe this type of leadership requires three ingredients:

Faith – your compass or beliefs.
Experiences – life to date and how you’ve managed.
Vision – your picture of the future and the determination to get there.

Principal-based leaders have faith, experience and vision deeply ingrained into the fabric of who they’ve become, which during times of crisis is intuitively exaggerated and leads to:

Simplicity and clarity: When the answers are not clear or nonexistent, the right direction can only come from the principals by which you believe.

Vulnerability: You cannot be afraid to be vulnerable or emotional about who you are and what you believe.

Stamina:  The strength needed to step out, speak up and press on.

Decisiveness: You make decisions with confidence. The last thing in your mind is being popular; it’s doing what’s right.

: What are your principals? How have you behaved in your time of crisis and change? What adjustments would you make?


This week, we celebrated one of the most well-known speeches from one of the most courageous leaders of our time. In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his valiant “I have a dream” speech. Two realizations come to mind as I think back fifty years ago:

Dream in Pictures: Dr. King took his dream to a very granular picture in his mind. He could see it.

I have a dream that one day — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”  

Putting dreams into pictures, into words, or on paper allows for your heart to get involved, and increases the probability that you and others will act.  

Personalize the Dream:  The “I have a dream” speech was so personal for Dr. King that he spoke from the heart, without a script. Making your dreams personal will allow you to act without hesitation and encourage others to follow you.

We have a choice: dream or not dream. I choose to dream. Here is how I visualize and personalize my dream of a world before 2050 where food is not a top-three issue like it is today:

I have a dream that one day no parent will have to look into the eyes of their hungry child as they tuck them into bed at night.

I have a dream that one day children will gather around a breakfast table full of eggs and milk, rather than Pop Tarts. And, a mother will feel joy and comfort knowing her children go to school fully nourished and ready to learn.

I have a dream that one day a farmer in Africa will have just as much access to innovation solutions and farm practices to produce the food he needs like farmers in Brazil or Iowa.

Most of us don’t dream. But, when we do, we struggle to make our dreams so personal that they become clear pictures in our minds.

Challenge: Are you dreaming? Most importantly, do you believe your dream can come true so much that it becomes a picture in your mind. How are you acting on those dreams?