Muddy Boots         

The Wear Muddy Boots Blog

Muddy Boots Blog

Leadership never comes from sitting behind a desk....you need to get your boots muddy and get in the field with your employees, customers, clients, vendors, and stakeholders. The more you listen the more you learn. The individual closest to the action generally knows the real story. 

I have been a manager for 40 years, starting with IBM and now leading a non-profit, Episcopal Community Services, in what I hope will be my last professional chapter.  I have a fair amount of scar tissue, which I have come to learn is the best teacher. Leadership can be about talk and vision, but it is way more about deeds. For what it's worth, here are some of my thoughts on the subject of leadership, muddy boots and other stuff I find interesting. 

Thank you for your interest and I welcome your comments and exchange. Ideas and views are better when shared.

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The Summer Job Lift

Posted by Dave Griffith on April 30, 2018 at 9:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Across the region, a time-honored transition is occurring. The school year is ending, and summer vacation begins. For many young adults, this is also the time for early resume building to occur in the form of a summer job, summer internship, summer camps or travel that provides exposure and experience.

In large parts of our region, such a transition holds no such sets of experiences. For many, the summer is a time when the experience gap widens, and the associated access such opportunities provide only grow more distant.

In the cycle of intergenerational poverty, one of the distinguishing attributes is the lack of experiences and exposure to the opportunity that many of us take for granted. A summer job teaches both the hard and soft skills necessary to perform in the workplace as well as a modest income. A summer internship allows an individual to learn about a career field and learn what it takes to chart a career in a given industry. Understanding the skills required for a given vocation often drives a focus in school and the importance of a degree and/or professional skill. The networking that occurs often set the stage for a later interview and perhaps employment.

The good news is that across the city there exist many programs that serve to close this experience gap. At Episcopal Community Services we are members of PYN, the Philadelphia Youth Network, and together we provide paid internships four days a week and the one day of professional development for eight weeks over the summer months. Working with a network of for-profit businesses and nonprofit agencies we are able to place 130 young people in summer employment. Also, we extend our Out of School time program to summer camps where some 700 youth participate and gain both STEM experiences and other activities.

The data shows that individuals who have such experience are more likely to graduate high school, go on to additional education or professional training, and land employment that gives them the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty that grips our region.

We know that the way out of Poverty is a job. One with a living wage, benefits, and a career path based on performance. Income provides the opportunity for stable housing, wellness, ongoing education, and the chance to participate as a full member of society.

The challenges are quite simply the numbers. Philadelphia’s poverty rate is 28 percent, and the number of youth needing employment and professional development and mentoring is significant and not just in the summer.

If you are an employer, consider participating in summer hiring. Better yet allocate some of your hirings to the population that is experiencing poverty. Invest in mentoring and professional development for individuals experiencing poverty. If you can coach or mentor a youth reach out to one of the many agencies that run such programs, get trained and volunteer. Provide financial support so such programs can scale to meet the demand.

Poverty will consume us as a society if we do not challenge its grip on our brothers and sisters. The long and short-term costs are staggering. We ignore the issue at our peril, and the solutions lie in our collective action, not in our collective avoidance of the issues.

Together the cycle of poverty can be broken and if you are in a position to hire, mentor, coach, or contribute you are part of the solution. Help provide the opportunity to a young adult, and in doing so challenge poverty.

My Prayer

Posted by Dave Griffith on April 11, 2018 at 6:25 PM Comments comments (0)

My Prayer

Lord watch over family, guide, and protect them.

Watch over the people and animals that we love and those we do not know.

Look over and bestow your blessing on the good people of ECS.

Lift up the individuals we serve and give them the strength and courage to overcome all that is before them.

Given me the heart and wisdom to do your will and to lead with humbleness, humor, grit, and grace.

When we are called Lord, guide us and show us the way.

Let us know the stranger among us so that they can be strangers no more.

Give us the courage to be a witness to the truth, to listen with intention, and be a light for your work.

May we know the power of your name and be your instrument in this world.


A Call in the Night

Posted by Dave Griffith on March 25, 2018 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (0)

It is rarely good news when the phone rings late at night. The same when your text reads “ Call, it’s urgent.” Such was the case last week.

ECS is made up of some 150 individuals focused on the issues of intergenerational poverty in the Philadelphia region. The work is challenging, but one thing that makes it less so are the individuals we work with, as they are called to this work, dedicated, and talented. For the most part, we are a close-knit organization. So when we lose one of our own, it is not work, it is family.

Cindy Stewart worked most of her professional life at ECS. First at St Barnabas and then at Third Street. We lost Cindy suddenly to a brain aneurysm a week ago Thursday. She was with us Wednesday and then gone.

Cindy was called to this work, Cared deeply for the individuals we serve, focused on her community, and maintained a faith that gave her both strength and wisdom. She shared that strength and wisdom with everyone, both participants, and fellow employees. She had a sense of humor and a laugh that was infectious. People came to her for advice. Perhaps her greatest strength is she was curious, believed in self-improvement, and if she felt strongly about something was calmly candid in bringing it to your attention. As office manager, she also kept me in Diet Coke.

We gathered as a leadership team Monday and taking a page from our Quaker friends held Cindy in the light and in the quiet invited her colleagues to speak if so-called.

People spoke of an individual who cared, who laughed, whom you could count on, who modeled curiosity and hard work. Who they loved and whom they would miss. They also spoke about her faith and belief in God and that this was not an ending, but a beginning.

I am of an age that I have lost friends and employees. Some with time to say goodbye, some the news came on a late night call. What I realized is that for many of my young managers this was the first time in such a situation, where a peer had passed, and there had been no time for preparation.

I asked them to take a lesson from this experience. That is that we just don’t know what tomorrow holds and that the time we have, is what we have. Use it wisely, speak the truth, act with values, and let the people you care about, know you care. Be thoughtful about how you spend your time.

I have always been mindful that our time is short. It is why I am intentional about the work we do and the individuals we do it with and the impacts we are attempting to create. I feel the same way about family.

God bless Cindy and thank you for her life and her example. It is an extraordinary privilege to work with such individuals, and she is one of many such individuals that carry the water in our work at ECS. While she is gone, we know she is always with us. I take her example to heart and I am grateful she was part of my professional life.

Godspeed and know we hold you and your family in the light.

Peace. You never know when the phone will ring.

Snow Day

Posted by Dave Griffith on March 21, 2018 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (0)

For the fourth time in March, a Nor'easters have come through Philadelphia. I have not had this many snow days since I was a kid growing up in Connecticut. I have been fortunate in that I have been able to adjust my schedule; I did not have major travel disrupted, I could get work down with technology. My biggest project was getting my chainsaw to start so I could clean up some limbs that broke off from our white pines.

I find lessons in these recent snow days and a contrast sharpened by my work. The one lesson is that of the gift of downtime. Increasingly a rare gift in these times.

Research suggests that blocks of time doing nothing, clearing the head, putting aside all distractions, significantly improve the creative process and the ability to see solutions that may not be apparent in the day to day clutter. Research also tells us that downtime spent with friends, partners, spouses has a direct correlation to the quality of the relationship. Think of the last time you shared a meal without interruption, sat quietly and just read with your significant other in the room, talked without a deadline to make?

You know the research is intuitively correct, yet how many of us create our own snow days? In the age of texting, email, cell phones, AI, and drone delivery, along with the perceived importance of being ???connected,??? a little bit of snow day behavior can be a blessing and perhaps a opportunity to alter our routines.

The other lesson and the sharp contrast are that I know for many of the people we work with there is no downtime, snow days notwithstanding. For individuals in poverty, the ability to rest and take a break is nonexistent. For many crises is a perpetual state. For many, a snow day is a day of lost wages because of the lack of childcare, transportation challenges, or lost shifts.

For many, we take our security for granted, and for us, a snow day is an opportunity to recharge. What I want you to know is that for many that security and opportunity do not exist and a snow day just adds to the stress. And not just on snow days.

Our work at ECS is about dealing with these contrasts in our communities and finding ways to bring opportunity to all. Contrasts that even on snow days are as sharp as the nor'easters that create them.


Posted by Dave Griffith on March 10, 2018 at 8:35 AM Comments comments (0)


The challenge with any system built on processes and best practices is that once designed and implemented they immediately start to become obsolete. The cause is not necessarily inferior design or execution. The reason is that the market, technology, and knowledge changes with every minute in every day.

The tension is systems, with the associated processes, training, and infrastructure are expensive. In the world of social services where systems provide services, government support with the associated audit measurements is often explicitly tied to established processes. The unintended consequences are many contracts linked to research and approaches that are ten to fifteen years behind current best practices.

So two challenges. The first is how can government funding in the social service sector shift with confidence to the most current best practices that drive the most profound impacts. In a sector where maintenance is often the standard, and many agencies have vested interests in maintaining the status quo, how do we shift to funding and processes that support programs that drive fundamental change in participants lives?

The second challenge is how do agencies undertake the process of innovation on a continual basis and drive innovation into their culture. The first is the need to have a radar function. In that how does an agency keep abreast of the latest requirements of their participants, the most current technology to both track data and information and drive productivity, and finally the most current research and its implications for their work?

I would suggest that concerning funding, is that the sector builds an advocacy function that is politically effective and built on the algebra that long-term maintenance is vastly more expensive than programs that lift an individual out of poverty.

Concerning agency innovation, I would look for the following. With whom do you benchmark? Do you track your impacts and outcomes and react to the information? Do you have a radar function and do you formally evaluate your programs against the most current information? Can you demonstrate impact to social impact investors and foundations and build a nongovernment revenue stream? Do you have a culture that fosters innovation in that pilots, small projects, failure, and open, honest feedback are part of your everyday workflow? I have long believed that the people closest to work, know the most about the work. This is true both in and outside of your organization. What is your process to engage with people closest to the work. A question I love to hear is “ so what does this mean to us?”

Evolution is a constant process.

The question is how are you going along for the ride?

Remember dinosaurs no longer roam the earth.

To quote, “You innovate, or you die.”

We are at War,let's act like it

Posted by Dave Griffith on February 17, 2018 at 3:10 PM Comments comments (1)

Despite recent events, I am cynical about our political will or our ability to enact effective gun control or fund essential mental health programs and processes that can efficiently prevent another child or citizen being killed by an unstable individual with an automatic weapon.

So while I am not happy about that reality, I have been doing some executive math lately supported with some data sourced from my favored source of truth, Google.

There are about 150,000 schools in the United States from elementary to 4-year college institutions as of 2013.

Since January 1st of 2018, there have been eight school shootings where at least one death has occurred.

The anticipated cost for the proposed border wall is seven to ten billion.

The odds of meaningful gun control legislation based on history is zero. Under the proposed Presidential budget mental health and behavioral health spending is significantly cut.

Ten billion would fun a one-time investment in each school in America some $66,000 for security upgrades or fund a well trained armed guard for a year.

I am not sure how many illegal immigrants are crossing the borders with AR-15 ’s, but apparently, there is any number of individuals with automatic weapons crossing the thresholds of our schools and checking into Las Vegas hotels.

In the absence of the political will to reform gun ownership that respects the intent of the second amendment and protects children and the lack of funding and systems to address chronic mental health issues, which are a factor in these shootings, one has to look to other options. Doing nothing is not an option here.

Surely funding is available to protect children attending schools? While not the ideal solution, the genie is out of the bottle. Guns are readily available and even with the political will gun control is a long-term cleanup. Given mental health funding, we have an even longer road to travel.

I am not a fan of untrained individuals carrying arms for protection. However, funding is available for the training and staffing to provide a level of a deterrent in our schools beyond the current level.

If you can fund a wall that is not all that necessary, surely we can support a higher level of protection for our children and do so now.

Let's  get our priorities in order and enough talk. If we are not going to implement gun control, if we are not going to address mental health as a meaningful level, then at least let's build a wall of protection in the right place and do it now.

Look if one shoe bomber can create the TSA airport change in the check-in process, you would have to think a 100 school shootings would prompt some federal action.

We are at war, let's act like it.


Posted by Dave Griffith on February 7, 2018 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (1)

I want you to hold onto the feeling you had Sunday night, 4th quarter and Tom Brady has the ball with a little over two minutes to go. We are up 5 points and your heart is in your throat.

In your mind, you are replaying the Atlanta game a year ago.

Then for the first time in the game the Eagles defense come through with a QB sack and recovered fumble. Eagles run the clock, put three more on the board and shut down the New England offence as time runs out. 58 years of frustration and loyalty let lose.

It is that moment of collective pure joy for a team, a city, and a region. The last time I had such a feeling I was in the stands for the last game of the Phillies 1980 run.

Pure joy. You are a little kid, for a moment sport is not big business, you feel a pride that your team, underdog, beaten and injured, has triumphed on the field, and as a fan you are very much a part of that journey.

Hold that joy, that feeling, that elation in your heart.

Now turn to your day to day and ponder the following.

How do you take that victory, that joy, that sense of belonging and turn it into something even more powerful?

We are a City and Region facing major challenges. They are easy to excuse away and hand off as someone else’s problem, but they remain real and they are growing.

We all can name them. Poverty, Education, Housing, Wellness, Employment. Issues that 30 percent of our citizens’ face every day. No one cause and no one solution.

Like the Eagles win, no one player can address these issues, but as a community, as a team coming together and putting the mission ahead of individual performance and agendas we can meet these issues and we can address them. Study the issues, volunteers with your time, treasure, and talent, find an agency that can become your team, get in the game.

Imagine the joy you felt Sunday night as the clock wound down repeating itself as you reach out and care for the stranger and make a difference in both your lives.

It is just as big a win. Actually bigger.


A Pin Drop

Posted by Dave Griffith on January 30, 2018 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (0)

My brother recently sent me the following:

“Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, was in France in the early 60's when

DeGaulle decided to pull out of NATO.

DeGaulle said he wanted all US military out of

France as soon as possible.

Rusk responded,

"Does that include those who are buried here?"


did not respond.

You could have heard a pin drop.”

I share this snippet because it is a useful reminder that all over the world American servicemen and women are defending America's interests and those of our allies. Increasingly it is becoming challenging to align our interests given the leadership in Washington, but we need to be mindful that young man and women put their life on the line to defend the Constitution and in turn our way of life. They deserve clarity in our national strategy and confidence in our leadership, especially our Commander in Chief.

I have family in the military. I have friends whose son and daughters are in the military. We all have individuals we know who are currently on active duty or in the reserves. We all know the famous quote that “freedom is not free’, but the decision to deploy deserves the careful thought that the chain of command is designed to engage in when making such a decision. I pray that the concept of “legal orders” is not lost on our President or the chain of command.

As a reminder: “e Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) 809[890].ART.90 (20), makes it clear that military personnel need to obey the "lawful command of his superior officer," 891.ART.91 (2), the "lawful order of a warrant officer", 892.ART.92 (1) the "lawful general order", 892.ART.92 (2) "lawful order". In each case, military personnel have an obligation and a duty to only obey Lawful orders and indeed have an obligation to disobey Unlawful orders, including orders by the president that do not comply with the UCMJ. The moral and legal obligation is to the U.S. Constitution and not to those who would issue unlawful orders, especially if those orders are in direct violation of the Constitution and the UCMJ.”

A reminder for any leader to deploy lies in the fields at Arlington and our other national cemeteries, and in resting places all over the world and in sacred grounds reserved not just for Americans. The price of conflict is an absolute for any country. We will answer the call as we always have, let us not do so lightly. I pray that our current administration does not treat such a decision as a reality show, that the wisdom of our President’s Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs, and National Security Chief can calm the decision-making process. These men have tremendous scar tissue, and we know that scar tissue is the best teacher. They are men of character, and they understand the price paid in any conflict. If we must act, and the world may require us to do so, let it be based on our core values and our real national interests and obligations.

The political process is in place for a reason, as are the three branches of our government. As citizens, the obligation to participate in our process has never been higher, nor has the threat to that participation in recent memory for many been greater. Let us call on all three branches to do their job.

Perhaps we need to listen for the pin?

Better yet, to act before it is dropped.

Leadership Thoughts

Posted by Dave Griffith on January 23, 2018 at 5:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Every time I read another tweet, read a newspaper or listen to the news, regardless of the station I find myself needing to reset my definition of leadership. To do so I turn to a guiding, bedrock quote. Perhaps Congress could take note.

"Leadership is hard, and it is rewarding. It is about doing the right thing, not the popular thing. It is about being confident in yourself and wise enough to take the advice of those you trust. It is about understanding the facts, not the emotion. It is about being fair to all, not just a few. It is about courage and vision. It is about humor and humility.

It is about putting yourself in the hands of a higher power and having the faith to let that power guide your actions. It is never about the talk, it is all about the deeds.”

A Day of Service vs. A Life of Service

Posted by Dave Griffith on January 16, 2018 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (1)

Across America today in many communities individuals and organizations have gathered to give a day of service. They do so in honor of Dr. King's legacy. In my part of the country, the day comes in cold weather, and the needs of the homeless and hungry are particularly significant.

As I wrote last month, this work on a holiday is always appreciated and always needed, but perhaps the highest value is highlighting the need for individual and organizational service year round.

What would it look like if part of our economic routine was time devoted to service? I recently become aware two local businesses who by design donate 10 percent of their annual profits to charity. I know of several others that are like minded. What is interesting is they also support their employee's service efforts in their respective communities. You are no doubt aware of the excellent work supported by company and family foundations.

The other emerging trend is that of Social Impact Investing. We are increasingly seeing investors looking at projects, and in addition to economic returns, they are looking for social impact. It might be in the form of job creation, environmental impact, providing affordable housing, or improved educational technology and processes. A little less return, but one with an intentional social implication.

What I appreciate is the notion that our significant social challenges are increasingly seen as not just a government issue that we as taxpayers leave in government hands. Instead, there is a movement afoot to deal with these problems as individuals and businesses in a shared community.

It is here that I see faith-based institutions and social service agencies, like ECS where I work, as both an agent of change and as a convener of like-minded individuals and organizations. We need to acknowledge that this work is complicated and challenging. That scale and resources matter and that there is little need for competition among like-minded individuals and organizations.

Think about the impact if rather than a day of service, we committed to a life of service? That if all our actions and investments held an element of social impact? Scale matters and is a given when we consider the size of the issues we face as a country. I do not doubt that we are capable of such actions. My fear is do we have the will?

Think of the impact of such service driven by all of us, informed as light and love.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Dr. M.L. King.


Join the movement.

Is the curve dead ?

Posted by Dave Griffith on January 6, 2018 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (0)

"The Phillips curve given by A.W. Phillips shows that there exists an inverse relationship between the rate of unemployment and the rate of increase in nominal wages. A lower rate of unemployment is associated with higher wage rate or inflation, and vice versa.”

42 years ago I graduated with a joint History and Economics degree from Kenyon. The Phillips curve was a core principle of any Macro track in economics. Today on the way home with Bloomberg Radio on the discussion centered on why the relationship is not in play in today’s US economy.

The reason I find this a fascinating subject is twofold. One, wages are not increasing in relation to the economy, as good as it is reported to be, and with inflation taken into consideration, one could make a case for stagnant wages. Also, too many segments of our population, while employed, wages are low relative to a living wage. Second, looking at the company boards I serve on, the ability to grow margin is one of the most significant issues. On analysis, increasing benefit costs is one factor, but the interesting one to me is the loss of pricing friction due to technology.

Specifically, one could hold and grow prices when information on availability, specifications, delivery convenience, and product information was part of a firms value add. In today's internet world along with the supply chains explosion, that friction is near zero. You can research, purchase, and have delivered almost any product at the most competitive price. In a commodity world holding margin is increasingly difficult. Great for consumers, not so much for employees.

The de facto result of the loss of price friction is business forced to reduce costs, and after costs of goods sold, labor is often a firm's most significant expense. The result is the growth of part-time, low wage, low benefit labor, the growth of automation, and the growth of the self-employed in a growing “gig” economy. Shareholders demand profits and a traditional response is what we most often see.

My point, especially given my current work with poverty, is that traditional thinking is not going to restore the Philips curve relationship and in fact, it may no longer be valid.

Employment is the way out of poverty, but jobs with a living wage, benefits and the opportunity for growth through performance.

We need to rethink our workforce development programs along with our vocational education tracks to get people ready for these new jobs. In addition, we need to create business models where returns are considered not only in absolute terms but also the social impact. Investors need to look for profits that are both absolute, but also create employment with living wages.

Perhaps a different tax plan would drive better social behavior and in turn, reduce social safety net spending. It is one thing to have a trained workforce; it is another to have work for them to do. Public policy can create the path here, and the private sector can nimbly respond. Most business I know has a skill gap. That gap is only the start to address job growth; we need a much more substantial response that drives real job growth.

Much of this work is connecting the dots that drive the right outcome. The real prize is in implementing the changes that will change employer behavior and provides employment that lifts all of us.

Time to change the curve.

Who says economics is dull?

Leadership in the New Year

Posted by Dave Griffith on January 1, 2018 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)

As we enter into 2018, I have been reflecting on leadership. Upon review, I have concluded that organizations crave leadership; the good ones get it from every member.

When I look at high functioning organizations, they focus on talent, and they focus on their mission, vision, and values. What is it that you do? What does it look like when it is right, and how do you roll as you go about your work. Mission, Vision, and Values are just words on paper until you add talent. It is talent that makes an organization work, but talent that has the freedom and authority to leverage the organization's mission and vision with their skills and insights along with their peers and partners.

So how does that environment look? How does it get created and nurtured?

Some observations:

1.Relentless focus on talent in the hiring process and care and feeding once on board.

2.An early seat at the table in most decisions.

3.That clear communication of organizational goals and purpose is the norm in all things. The how and the why of any action. With a focus on whom do we serve?

4. The ability to challenge process and approaches.

5. Ability to pilot without a fear of failure.

6. Data and fact driven. Learn and grow as we do and have an environment of accountability. Performance matters.

7. The willingness to invest in people. To be a learning organization.

8. The desire to have a significant alumni association. Success breeds opportunity for individuals and attracts new talent. Embrace and celebrate mobility.

9. That senior leadership’s role is to coach, to wear muddy boots, to be intentional where they spend time, and allow elephants to be named and dealt with safely. If you tell talent what to do, one of you is redundant.

10. Everyone wears nine hats. No one is above any job.

Senior leadership is about leverage. How best to mix Mission, Vision, Values, and Talent to create impact. Sometimes the hardest part of being a head coach is knowing the game is played with you on the sideline. The hard part is who do you put on the field, what is the game plan, and how do you adjust once the game is underway?

That said, the real work gets done on the field of play. So if this is indeed the case, why wouldn’t you spend your time on the game plan and the players you put in the contest?

Organizations crave leadership;

the best ones get it from every member of the team.

With that as a focus, I suspect 2018 could be a pretty good year.

Make your own luck, leadership, and godspeed.

Happy New Year.

ECS Employee and Board Message

Posted by Dave Griffith on December 23, 2017 at 8:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Our families traditional note at this time of year is:

In this season of Peace, we pray for Peace.

In this season of Joy may you find it.

In this season of Hope may you have it and give it.

To that, I add

I wish you a Happy Hanukkah, Joyful Kwanzaa,

I acknowledge and pay respects to Eid al-Fitr,

moreover, Merry Christmas.

Regardless of your tradition, and we honor all, I thank you for your service to the individuals we serve at ECS and your dedication to the work that we do together

to “Challenge Poverty.” One story. A young boy was in tears at one of our OST Christmas parties. When asked why he told one of our colleagues that he was told by his Mom not to open his present until Christmas day because it was the only present he would get. In his excitement, he had opened it along with his friends, and now he was worried. Your colleague took the young man and rewrapped his gift and made his world a little more comfortable.

You all make a substantial lift every day, but it is the thousands of small moments that make your and our work significant to the people we serve. I am honored to work with you, and I wish you and your family and loved ones, peace in this season of peace, joy, and my thanks that in this season of hope you do so much to bring it to the people we serve.

In my tradition, the birth of Jesus marks the greatest gift we ever receive and the challenge to extend that gift to the world at large. That gift is at the core of our work. Peace, Joy, and Hope.

You all have my most profound appreciation, respect and thanks.

Dave G

Head Coach

A Christmas Wish

Posted by Dave Griffith on December 11, 2017 at 10:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Across the region this month hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals will give time and treasure to assist individuals and families in need. As someone who works in social services in Philadelphia, I am thankful for these good and kind acts.

But an uncomfortable truth persists in this season of Peace, Hope, and Joy. Philadelphia has the highest poverty level of any major city in America, upwards of 25 percent. In nearby communities such as Camden, Trenton, Darby and Chester the rates are higher and largely unchanged since the 1960s. Despite billions of dollars, intergenerational poverty persists.

As a society we have been in the maintenance business with private and public spending and associated public policies. Still, pockets of excellence exist where individuals and organizations have initiated successful programs to lift individuals up and assist them on their journey out of poverty. But even with evidence of impact, a meaningful scale has not happened.

In this season of Peace, Hope, and Joy how can we move from acts of maintenance to actions that bring real change to individuals and families experiencing poverty?

Education: First, get educated. Understand the issues of poverty – not the myths. Understand that poverty robs individuals of opportunity many of us take for granted. No one wants to live in poverty. In fact, the participants we work with are some of the most resilient people I know. Understand how public policy impacts education, workforce development, housing, employment, wellness. Understand that race and gender are significant issues, uncomfortable as that may be. Understand the perpetual crisis caused by poverty makes it difficult to attend school, hold a job, live a productive life. Our goal should be to help individuals move permanently out of the crisis they experience.

Volunteer: Second, find a hands-on opportunity to volunteer and provide financial support. Look for an organization that focuses on impacts, not maintenance. Understand their approach and hold them accountable for results. Psychological science is evolving in this work and holds significant promise. Get involved throughout the year. Steady and consistent support move the needle. The work is complicated, and the private sector can move more quickly than the public sector on these issues.

Jobs: Third, if you are in a position to do so, make a conscious decision to hire individuals experiencing poverty, pay a living wage and offer consistent hours. Here the private sector can have a major impact. The way out of poverty is a job. Many agencies can help potential hires develop the hard and soft skills they need. Job creation and a healthy economy raise all boats. But we need to focus on the “all” part. Statistically, 10,000 hires a year at a living wage can halve poverty in the region in a generation. There is no more productive tool to address intergenerational poverty. Imagine the long-term impact that redirected dollars could have on improved education and infrastructure.

Advocacy: Finally, advocate. Hold the political process accountable and support candidates who will drive needed changes in government policy. Government programs need to match best practices and results and reflect the same quality standards of any well-run business. Support public/private partnerships. Support social impact investing. Understand that if we do not deal with poverty as a society, it will consume us as a society. Currently we are not driving meaningful change at scale. Poverty is not someone else's issue. It is not a right or a left matter. It’s a shared issue affecting all Americans, on many levels.

Let me be clear – individuals, families and children in poverty need our support (many just to get through the day, week or month). But it is only the start to a permanent solution. We need to do more than help people maintain their lives. We need to bring not just hope, but the tools and support necessary to change lives. We know that when we meet people where they are and offer coaching and support based on science and research, individuals can experience meaningful change. The numbers require that we do this at scale and scale requires that we all bring our gifts together to make the lift possible.

Isn’t that what Christmas is really about?

A Good Sermon

Posted by Dave Griffith on December 7, 2017 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

A few weeks ago I listened to a sermon, and one phrase has been rattling around in my brain since:

“There is right, and there is wrong, and there is no in-between.”

I will grant a combination perhaps of the Gospel and Yoda. I am good with that as I am an equal opportunity listener and enjoy a strong, solid sound bite regardless of source. Especially one that grows from a soundbite to a full meal.

The lesson here hits on a few levels.

One the simple, a conversation where the definition of right and wrong is understood, and both parties are in agreement. As in you tell the truth. You don’t steal. No middle ground.

The second not so much, where the definition of right and wrong is not so well defined or there is outright disagreement. Flows from my values are right, and yours are wrong. Think about equal rights based on gender or orientation. Who would have thought we would see a supreme court case where a business owner’s religious beliefs and a customers lifestyle would conflict to the level of a case before the highest court in the land. Easy to take a position on either side, but there are dangerous precedents either way in our system that values individual rights and freedoms. Whose rights and whose freedoms?

Clearly, we need core, fundamental, bedrock values to order one's life and frame a community legacy. Here I can see where there is no middle ground. You have integrity, or you don’t. You respect people, or you don’t. The rattle in my brain is the question of in the between issues. Is there not a middle ground on such complex topics as poverty, race, equality, economic mobility, security, opportunity?

So to quote Yoda, “ The balance where is ?”

Here, I think we turn to the core gospel teachings and covenants of many of our traditions.

“Will you respect the dignity of every human being?”

“Will you love your neighbor as yourself?”

And you turn to the lesson of muddy boots, where you go into the field and listen and learn and walk in another person's shoes and invite them to do the same. I suspect that we share universal values more than we think and that the real difference stems from places of fear, especially the fear of scarcity of power, wealth, choice, variations, and opportunity. Avoiding an issue, digging in, is not a way to solve the problem.

I love a good sermon.

Especially one that takes us to a new place.

A place we need to go.


Thanksgiving 2017

Posted by Dave Griffith on November 22, 2017 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (0)

In America, we are about to enter into a time that in many parts of the world would be impossible to experience, let alone understand. This Friday will be black Friday, Monday will be Cyber Monday, and then it will be 25 days to Christmas. Billions, with a “B,” spending will be massive, and consumer debt will swell for the January credit card mailings.

As I reflect on what is undoubtedly ahead, I think about why this bothers me so. As we get ready to head to our daughter's house for Thanksgiving, I contrast my feeling for this November Thursday holiday with the season ahead. Why.

Well, there is the food and the football. There is the gathering of family and friends. There is a time to give thanks for what we have without the pressure of what we do not. For me, it is also the marker on the calendar that signals the start of winter. It is also a four-day break when I really need one.

I think my anxiousness also now comes from a different place than it might have five years ago when I started at the agency. The economic contrast between individuals in poverty and this season of commercial excess is now very sharp, very evident, on my radar. I would suggest that it needs to be on all our radars and not just now in this season and place.

Clearly, there is work to be done and long-term strategies to address poverty in America. I have written at length on this blog about the issues and what we and others are doing in this space. I want to call for a different action this season. Actually, I pray for it.

As you sit down at the table tomorrow and give thanks, I want you to contrast that experience with the thousands of individuals living on the streets in America, in shelters, in homes where this day is not marked with a large meal or family. I want you to think about the season ahead, and the contrast gets even more substantial. I want you to think about the middle of February and the difference of a warm home against one without heat.

From that contrast, I want you to do something about it. I want you to allocate some of what you will spend this holiday and send it to an organization, not necessarily ECS to be transparent, that you know works in this space, that stirs your soul, and has an impact. Give it directly and hold the agency accountable. Research a hands-on volunteer program and do it. Research a public policy issue that impacts the poor and advocate in the political process for positive change. Out of your abundance of time, treasure, and talent, you surely have some to give.

We can think about it, or we can do it. Surely we can afford it, and maybe, just maybe this season of peace, hope, and joy we can get back to the lessons of the carpenter from Bethlehem whose birth we celebrate.

“To whom much is given, much is expected. “ I agree.

Peace.Joy. And most of all, Hope.


Posted by Dave Griffith on October 31, 2017 at 8:45 PM Comments comments (0)

One of the core learnings in the Leadership research I have done and in the teaching that I do as well as in my experience is that the only real asset we have that we can control is time.

Someone will always be smarter; someone will always be better looking, someone will have more toys, and someone will have something you do not. Another lesson for another time is someone will also have less.

On reflection the only asset that is equal among all of us is time. Twenty-four hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, 60 seconds in a minute. No more, no less.

The question I have for you is how do you spend your time? Lots of great quotes here;

“ Do the important, not the urgent.”

“Time waits for no man.” “ Time, like an ever rolling stream.”

“ I will do it tomorrow.” “ I have no time.”

“ A hundred years from now no one will remember, except your children.”

The question I like to ask students is if you knew you had a limited amount of time left, whom would you call, what would you say, what regrets would you have. Some scoff at the question as childish, but I remind them of the 911 tapes from the air passenger’s cell phones. I ask them to be honest and reflective. I then suggest to them they have time and have just given themselves the gift of insight. Insights they can act on if they choose.

All of which leads to the question of what do you spend your time on? What are your priorities?

I suggest that what makes us unique is we have choices, and we have options of how and where we spend our time. Again another discussion when we get into the issues of poverty, as poverty and the associated trauma rob individuals of both time and choice.

Back to the limited time question and the associated insight. Do you have a passion for which you have not spent time? Do you love your job? Do you hate your job? Do you have someone you need to say I love you too? Is there a cause calling you? Are you spending time with family? Do you know your purpose? Is the time you spend on anything your decision, is it spent intentionally; meaning was time spent well and with a goal in mind? Do you set aside downtime, wellness time, prayer time? Are you honest and brave enough to know you have choices?

The people I admire and the leaders I would follow, spend their time intentionally and with a purpose. Rarely is it random, rarely is it without thought. Life comes at us with a myriad of options, how we spend our time defines us, shapes us and ultimately writes our legacy.

I would suggest that one’s priorities serve as guardrails for one’s journey. I love the question, “How do you roll?” An honest answer will define your values, your priorities, and I would hope where you spend your time. With whom and on what?

Give yourself the gift of insight and the gift of acting on it.


Privilege and Poverty

Posted by Dave Griffith on October 17, 2017 at 10:40 AM Comments comments (2)

“I know a few folks who were born on third base and think they hit a triple.”

“ People in poverty just don’t want to work.”

In the work that we do I hear the above all the time. The issue is the very uncomfortable topic of privilege. Privilege defined as a condition afforded to one set of individuals and not another. The news today holds up many examples with conditions rooted in gender, race, economic status at birth, or orientation to name a few.

Solutions to intergenerational poverty need to come from a place and perspective that recognizes that your experience may not be my experience or the experience of any other individual. When I started this work, one of our senior social workers pulled me into her office about two months into my start at the agency and brought me up short. I had been working with a young African-American man in our youth program and talking to him about careers. She pointed out a few errors in my approach. First I was talking and not listening. Second I was making assumptions not based on any inputs. Third, as she pointed out the young man had a few barriers that were not on my radar because of point one, issues such as homelessness, no drivers license, wellness, and a financial base to get started before a first paycheck. Problems I had never experienced, let alone understood the full impact. In fact, my approach was not helping the individual, and for me, it was a wake-up call.

If you are honest, I suspect many of you would have had the same experience. Mainly because of background, culture, awareness, or privilege. In the months that followed, I spent a lot more time listening and doing what I am teaching in the leadership class I participate in, that is putting on my muddy boots and going into the field and talking to the people who do this work. Learning to coach on a whole new level by meeting people where they are and listening to their story. At its core, this is what social workers do every day, and as I have learned, I have a deep respect for the MSW degree.

What the research and direct experience will tell you is people in poverty have experienced trauma, and trauma the science informs us impacts the brain and in turn behavior. How useful would you be if you had to deal with a personal or family crisis every day and all day? Also, the issues of economic status at birth, gender, and race set a higher hurdle in accessing opportunity that leads to getting out of the crisis. Opportunity that many of us take for granted. My direct experience is no one in poverty wants to be in poverty, and some of the most resilient individuals I have met are the individuals we work directly with as participants at ECS.

So what I ask is that when the issue of poverty is brought to your attention, and you hear the staggering numbers of 15% National and 25% Philadelphia rates of poverty, you pause and you consider your experience and the privileges that have impacted your trajectory and not judge individuals or groups of individuals. Instead look at the broader picture not just your experiences, the impacts of poverty, the science, the data, your call to service, and become part of the solution from a place of perspective and understanding and not from a place of political ideology. Poverty is a real bipartisan issue. It is not comfortable, but necessary if we are to deal with the challenges of poverty honestly. We either deal with poverty or it will consume us as a society. It is here that maintenance agendas need to give way to real change.

Look Up, Challenge Poverty.