“Promise” programs revisited; success requires change of mind and heart


I recently heard Gregg Lederman, CEO of Brand Integrity, speak on the topic of culture and engagement. He deeply believes in the power that comes from recognizing and celebrating others’ success. For Lederman, it’s all about creating and sustaining positive habits. 

Lederman shared many insights I’ve heard from others. His reminders, however, provided timely triggers that helped me reframe the argument for so-called “Promise Programs” designed to foster a college-centric atmosphere for both parents and young people. In my previous post, I scrutinized the potential of such a program in Rochester due to a lack of leadership and far too little evidence to make a solid go at such an ambitious and costly initiative. 

However, a rebuttal from Anne Kress, president, Monroe Community College as well as Lederman’s workshop on engagement, inspired me to rethink the potential for Rochester Promise. 

Step 1: Change the community mindset

Lederman states the most important step to build a new habit is the conscious decision to “change your mind.” He urges leaders to believe that change is both necessary and possible. To that point, it would be hard to argue with anyone who about the value or importance of a college education in the 21st century. 

Step 2: Establish consistency 

Lederman calls this next step, “create a routine.” This is all about setting the stage for consistency, from annual fundraising to ongoing, measurable engagement with neighborhoods, parents, teachers, and students. Even when an activity falls short of a desired objective, we learn from the data, better prepared for the next challenge. 

Creating lasting change is hard. But if the community can remind itself of step 1 — the necessity and the possibility — an initiative such as Rochester Promise has a fighting chance to weave itself into our community ethos. 

Step 3: Build momentum

In the final step, Lederman charges leaders with the challenge to “feed the routine.” In bestseller Good to Great, author Jim Collins narrates a similar theme around the concept of a “vicious flywheel.” 

For Lederman this stage is all about individuals’ “willpower” and “reinforcement.” Over time what once required conscious work becomes instinctively a part of the greater whole; through a Rochester Promise the commitment to a college-educated community becomes bigger than a program — it becomes a value. 

When something becomes a value it no longer requires the same rational logic that a standalone program might have initially demanded. In my experience, a value is something that lives closer to the heart than the head. They’re the things we learn from our parents, the churches of our choosing — whatever form they may take — and the innocent curiosity of our children. 

Lastly, what if Rochester Promise became that overarching vision our region so desperately needs? Even if the challenge of brain drain were to continue, such a culture would give Rochester a priceless export — talent. Achieving this may require no more than a few brave and determined people who are willing to change their mind and touch others’ hearts in the process. 

In the words of Margaret Mead:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.


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