Leadership Development

High Risk Kids…the BEST training ground for CEOs


The headline is not a misprint there is a ton a CEO can learn from a high risk child. A few years ago I was asked to speak to a group of at risk high school students who have repeatedly been in and out trouble, and this particular program was the last opportunity to clean up or head to jail. While it was somewhat of an intimidating experience for me to speak to a group who quite frankly didn’t want to be there…let alone listen to some “chump” they don’t even know. The very moment when I spoke the first word I had this out of body experience where I could see myself sitting among them…it was weird. You see my childhood wasn’t too far different than theirs, although I was blessed with having a mother who was relentless in making sure I didn’t go left…when the correct direction was right. Nonetheless, I was far from a perfect child my Mom can verify that and then some.

The interaction with the group was surreal because as I peered out at each of them all I could see was lack of spirit. I actually broke down in the car after it was over which surprised me, I just became overcome. At the beginning of “the talk” I tried with little futility to gather audience participation as if I was in a corporate environment (it was dumb thinking), and they pretty much just looked at me as if they wanted to attack me… it was that kind of stare. When I failed at the attempt to get them to open up I opened up and BOY did the flood gates open. While I wasn’t able to get most to communicate the feedback I received was valuable to me personally. You see I was there to help them but interestingly enough in an ironic way they helped me. PERSPECTIVE is such as strong and under-utilized word that has many meanings, most of which we simply ignore. The life and backgrounds of these kids I learned from the program’s organizer almost brings me to tears even at this present moment as I type on this keyboard. I’m a grown man and I haven’t had the life experiences of some of these kids and for me to say to a child “GET IT TOGETHER, SHAPE UP”!!!….misses the target totally. I was doing the best I can in a short period of time to have some impact and at the same time…just LISTEN.

In wiping the tears from my eyes on the way home, I can honestly say I didn’t enjoy the experience nor should I have…that wasn’t the objective. The value I received and hopefully provided addressed whatever satisfaction was supposed to be gained. I learned from the group that sometimes being a better listener is far more important than being a better “lecturer”. Just stopping and listening with sincerity, honesty, and humility goes a long way I found out…something I really hadn’t taken seriously in my personal life.  I’ve been asked to participate with the program again which I humbly accepted, and will follow through on with even better listening skills.

One of them hugged me when it was over……………

Thank you!!

Andre’ Harrell

AH2 & Beyond Consulting





2 thoughts on “High Risk Kids…the BEST training ground for CEOs

  1. Listening is very important, no doubt, but when you share from the heart, kids know.

    The fact that speaking to them had such an impact on you says a great deal about your motivation for being with them. You wanted to make a difference in their life, and like any good speaker, you were thinking what motivates your audience. In the case of these “at-risk” students, it was clearly difficult for you to relate but your efforts to share , your honest desire to have a positive impact and your openness to self examination, as displayed by this article, was in the end appreciated by them.

    During my earlier career as a non-profit founder, our organization had placed over 3,500 Black, Latino and Asia role models, from the community, over 20 years with over 68 high schools in New York City. I myself, have shared my life story hundreds of times, so you can imagine all the perspective I’ve gotten over the years from them! I’d like to believe I’m a better person as a result.

    Thanks again for sharing your story.

    All my Best,

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