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5 Things I Learned from the Mayor of Compton

Executive News & Opinions Mayor of Compton

We are all focused on solving big problems: customer problems, partner problems, employee problems. This week, I had the chance to sit down with Aja Brown, the Mayor of Compton, California. What I learned inspired me, and has practical applications … from the board room to the accounting firm.

As the youngest mayor of Compton when she was elected at the ripe old age of 31, she inherited a plethora of problems. A city with a negative reputation. Sky-high unemployment. High homicide rate. Gang activity. Human trafficking. And the list goes on. And for resources? There were only two of them … and she was one.

She had a large task in front of her, and she had to build credibility at the same time. Her journey required courage, the passion to be a change agent and the tenacity to see it through. She recognized that she could not do this alone and focused on innovation and strategic partnerships to turn her city around. Here are her five guiding principles.

  1. Embrace conflict: Conflict can make you bitter, or it can make you better, but it’s your choice. Obstacles, setbacks and even defeats are designed to build our character. Learn your lesson and grow from it. It will make you sharper, more resilient and strengthen your tenacity and when kept in perspective, produce patience, wisdom and understanding.
  2. Set a bold mission (grand challenge): One that is too big to fail, too important to not succeed. But don’t try to go it alone. Have an open mindset to embrace outside help, lean into partners and deliver success together.
  3. Mind your mind: Be deliberate on where your mind spends time. Optimism breeds optimism. Trust breeds trust. Believing in others will usually pay off. Negative energy never has a good outcome. Your team will have whatever “mind” you have.
  4. Connect with your team: You are not what matters in your organization — it is the impact you have with your teams. Know your team personally and professionally. Lead with heart … love people … people feel it … they know if it is real…its raw, pure, organic. Transformational leaders take up less air. Instead, they are the opposite — they create air. Build a legacy that enables those who follow you to do more than you could have ever done. Enable them to be great and celebrate their greatness.
  5. Be intentional: Visions don’t get results … effort does. Be purposeful in where you spend your time. Eliminate redundancy in effort and bureaucracy. Every minute of every day counts so don’t waste any of it. Have a plan and always know where you are … and if the time you are investing today is moving you towards that plan.


Her story humbled me and at the same time inspired me on what is possible with the right mindset and the balance of hearts and minds. No matter where you are in your journey … establishing your firm, expanding your client list, developing a high performing team … we can all learn from and apply her lessons.


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