About Héctor Colón
Servant-CEO, Héctor Colón is the President and CEO of Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS). Under his visionary and Servant-Leadership approach, Colón has positioned LSS for greatness – adapting new models and business strategies to increase impact and viability for staff, clients and the organization. Before the start of Colón’s tenure in 2017, the organization had not met its budget for four consecutive years. During Colón’s first three years, LSS grew from over $4 million in losses to $8 million in gains resulting in a $17.6 million financial turnaround.
No stranger to financial turnarounds, Colón worked with his team to turn multi-million dollar deficits into multi-million dollar surpluses while serving as Executive Director of the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, he led several countywide initiatives, including efforts to reform the juvenile justice system, end chronic homelessness, transform mental health care, and end a 30-year waitlist for disabilities services.
Héctor will say that his own personal and professional turnaround began in boxing. As a member and champion of the national USA Boxing team, he won seven national titles and competed in the 1992 Olympic trials. At the height of his boxing career, Colón stepped away from a lucrative boxing career to serve God. Today, he is the USA Boxing Board Vice President where he and the organization focus on inspiring athletes to discover their own path towards personal and professional greatness. He also serves on the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, and the Board of Directors for M3 Insurance, as well as Nicolet Bankshares, Inc. (NASDAQ; NCBS), the holding company for Nicolet National Bank.
Colón’s life experiences and success prepared him to answer the call of Servant-CEO. He is working to inspire a Servant-CEO collective to revolutionize the social services sector as we know it today in the following ways: • Position the nonprofit industry as the employer of choice • Fully commit to the growth and development of all clients and their potential for greatness • Reimagine a Servant-Led sector that will thrive well beyond the next century Colón was named a 2021 Notable Minority Leader and the 2019 Nonprofit Executive of the Year by BizTimes Media. He also was chosen as Hispanic Man of the year by United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS). His first book, “From Boxing Ring to Boardroom: Five Virtues For Life and Leadership” is available for purchase on amazon.com. He launched LSS’ first podcast, “In the Ring with Héctor Colón” on March 16th.
Lesson 1. Courage is about facing your fears 04:47
Lesson 2. Humility at its core is about serving others 07:21
Lesson 3. Temperance is about self-control and restraint 11:19
Lesson 4. Magnanimity is about striving for excellence 14:18
Lesson 5. Perseverance is about not giving up 16:56
Lesson 6. Listening is more important than providing feedback 20:51
Lesson 7. Empathy is about your willingness to walk in some else’s shoes 26:06
Lesson 8. Stewardship is about paying it forward 30:59
Lesson 9. Commitment to growth of people is a great way to give back 35:01
Lesson 10. Building community is about equity diversity and inclusion. 39:06
Héctor Colón – Listening is more important than providing feedback
[00:00:08] Siebe Van Der Zee: Hello, and welcome to our podcast, 10 lessons it took me 50 years to learn. Where we talk to businesspeople, journalists, ambassadors, authors, and artists, sports heroes, leaders, and luminaries from all over the world. In other words, we will be talking to interesting people about their interesting experiences.
My name is Siebe Van Der Zee and I’m your host. I’m originally from the Netherlands happily residing in the beautiful grand canyon state of Arizona. Also known as the Dutchman in the desert. I hope you will enjoy this program. The podcast is sponsored by PDF Professional Development Forum. You can learn more about PDF at professionaldevelopmentforum.org.
Our guest today is Héctor Colón. Héctor has a fascinating background.
[00:01:00] He is a former seven times national boxing champion and in his second career, Héctor has become highly successful in managing financial turnarounds and organizational transitions in major organizations. Héctor is the president and CEO of Lutheran social services of Wisconsin and upper Michigan.
He serves on the board of Regions at the University of Wisconsin on the board of directors at M3 insurance and on the board of Nicolet National Bank. In addition, he is a member of the USA boxing board. Now Héctor will say that his own personal and professional turnaround began while he was in boxing.
He won several national titles and competed in the 1992 Olympic trials. At the height of his lucrative boxing career, he stepped away from boxing to reposition himself. Why did he do that?
[00:02:00] Let’s find out more. Welcome, Héctor. Thank you so much for joining us.
[00:02:05] Héctor Colón: Thank you, Siebe. So happy to be here with you today.
[00:02:08] Siebe Van Der Zee: Wonderful that you’re joining us. I am so curious, Héctor, um, from the boxing ring to the boardroom, I believe you wrote a book about that. Tell us more.
[00:02:19] Héctor Colón: Yes, I did. Um, I just, I was had a lot of friends and people along the way that heard about my story and were really amazed of why I would give up boxing at the height of my career.
And, and when I became the president and CEO of B social services, I felt it was the right time to do it. And so, in my book, I talked about how. I’ve evolved from a bullied young boy to a boxing champion and now into the boardroom. And I focus on five virtues that help me get there.
And we’ll talk about that more, I think, in the show, but they are courage, which is about facing your fears. humility at its core
[00:03:00] is about serving others, temperance, which is about self-control and restraint, magnanimity, which is about striving for greatness and perseverance, which is about not giving up. So, I talk about how I learned those virtues in the boxing ring and have applied them to my life and leadership into boardroom.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
[00:03:20] Siebe Van Der Zee: It’s pretty amazing. if you think about lessons that you have learned, and, and clearly you have learned many lessons. If you would be 30 years old today, are there any lessons that you have learned in your life, in your career that you would like to teach yourself as if you were 30 years old today?
[00:03:41] Héctor Colón: Yeah, there’s probably a lot of them, but I’m going to focus on one that, uh, time flies by. And so, I consider myself a pretty well-balanced person. I really try to take care of my spirit, my body, my mind and my family is, is really
[00:04:00] important. But now that I see my daughter as a freshman in college, I’m like, wow, those years really flew by.
And so, I would, uh, encourage everyone to recognize that and cherish those moments, uh, in your thirties and focusing on, on your family, your children, because those years passed by very quickly.
[00:04:21] Siebe Van Der Zee: That’s a good point. And, and I think it, applies to. Every person, right? Mm-hmm as we go through life, we many times, not everyone of course, but we understand the value of our family and, and being able to help children, and people that are going to difficult moments, you use your experience, to help them.
And it, for many people, that’s a natural instinct. I think.
[00:04:47] Lesson 1: Courage is about facing your fears
[00:04:47] Siebe Van Der Zee: Well, that’s a great way to start our 10 lessons and, lesson number one, Héctor is courage is about facing your fears. What are your thoughts behind that?
[00:04:59] Héctor Colón: Yeah.
[00:05:00] And I, I really learned this in boxing because when, you’re a boxer.
You have fear before getting into that ring. I don’t care if you’re Mike Tyson Evander Holyfield, or Héctor Colón, you’re going into that ring with fear. But it really is that dedication, that determination and that discipline, that gives you the confidence, uh, to enter into that ring. And then there’s nothing like having those hands raised in triumph, in front of thousands of people, because you know, you work so hard, to achieve, your goal.
And so that, that virtue of courage really helped me a lot in my life where I was willing to have courage, to step into roles that maybe I wasn’t entirely qualified for. But I worked really hard with that dedication, determination, and discipline, and, and allowed me to be prepared to, not only get into those roles, but be very successful, in those roles.
I think about when I’ve been at LSS, we had to divest of
[00:06:00] over 13 million dollars’ worth of programs. That’s really hard for our sector to do that. We love people. We want to serve people, but my courageous team and I decided to move forward. And as a result of that and many other things, uh, we led to a $17.6 million turnaround within the organization over the last four years.
So that virtue of courage is really important about stepping in facing your fears and it’ll allow you to do something I believe. That is extraordinary.
[00:06:31] Siebe Van Der Zee: Is, is that something that in your boxing career that you learned? I mean, look, I’m not a boxer. if I would be in the ring, I would be a little nervous and there would be a level of fear.
My gosh, is that, is that something that I would imagine you experienced and that you have taken with you in your career in your business career?
[00:06:53] Héctor Colón: Absolutely. And like I said, in boxing, I don’t care who you are, you’re you are going into that ring with fear [00:07:00] because, uh, you could lose, uh, you could be humiliated, you might even die.
So that’s the possibilities in the ring. So definitely, I learned that in the boxing ring, and I brought it into my life and leadership and it’s an important virtue, I think that could lead to, uh, great results.
[00:07:18] Siebe Van Der Zee: Dealing with fear. Yeah, I like that.
[00:07:21] Lesson 2: Humility at its core is about serving others
[00:07:21] Siebe Van Der Zee: Lesson number two, humility at its core is about serving others. It sounds, it sounds beautiful. But humility, how, how does humility compare to confidence?
[00:07:33] Héctor Colón: Yeah, I think, uh, humility is, is so important. The early Christians and philosophers talked about it within the context of serving others. So, when I think about this virtue, I also think about my early life and my coach, uh, Israel Acosta who they call shorty.
Who’s really a giant in my life and he’s a giant in this community. Where he would spend his nights with me, you know, I, I played baseball and I would have baseball
[00:08:00] practice and I’d come to the boxing gym late at night at seven o’clock. And, and shortly that giant is there waiting for me sometimes alone, just so that he can train me.
He spent his weekends, his, sacrifice his vacation so he can go to my fights and actually took me into his own home where he loved me, fed me and made sure that I could be a champion both in and out of the ring. So that virtue of humility, I saw how shorty.
Brought out the champion in me. You know, and he’s, he’s on the sidelines, just smiling and very happy. I’m getting all the attention so that I really, when I think about that virtue of humility, I think about shorty.
[00:08:40] Siebe Van Der Zee: I do have a question. When I think of humility, I like it, but is there perhaps a danger that you’re being taken advantage of when you are a humble person?
You don’t have a big mouth. You don’t say, Hey, I’m the best, et
[00:08:58] Héctor Colón: You know? Um, I, I
[00:09:00] don’t think so. I think, uh, people gravitate more towards those individuals that are humble. Um, it doesn’t mean that, you know, you’re not ambitious and you don’t have leadership and you want to move forward with very ambitious goals, and you have dreams.
You can have that and still, uh, be humble. And what I’ll say is that if you look. The fortune 500, companies. Those that are led by a servant leader, outperform perform those that are not. So, it really shows that, when you put others first, you address their needs. And you want to bring out the best in them.
They are going to become a champion in life. So, I, I’m a firm believer of the virtue of humility and how it, equates to servant leadership and how you can lead good results, uh, through that virtue.
[00:09:51] Siebe Van Der Zee: Yeah. Well said, well said, I see a picture of Muhammad Ali behind you on the wall. And, he was, of course, The greatest, right?
[00:09:59] Héctor Colón: One of the greatest, absolutely. And, and the thing that not only in the ring, but his, just his persona, his charisma and his influence, uh, was PR something pretty special. I don’t think we’ve, we’ve seen anything like him, um, since his time. Uh, so just somebody that, uh, definitely have looked up to over the years.
[00:10:20] Siebe Van Der Zee: Would you describe him? Muhammad Ali as a humble person?
[00:10:25] Héctor Colón: Ha, uh, you know, he was, I mean, that, wasn’t his style. Uh, to be honest, I think later on in life, he, he became more humble, but certainly in the ring, his persona was, you know, he was the greatest and nobody was going to take that away from him. And so yeah, part of it’s part of the game, you know, you got to live out that image and, and you’re trying to intimidate the, your opponent too.
So, um, yeah.
[00:10:52] Siebe Van Der Zee: Well said, and that’s why I was thinking because in his latter career, I do believe he was very humble.
[00:11:00] Yeah. And, uh, he did a lot for society, uh, in, in his final years, especially. Um, but, uh, while he was in the game, that was part of his image. Of course. Uh, he did not want to come across as humble, but like you said, he was the greatest, uh, yes, definitely.
[00:11:19] Lesson 3: Temperance is about self-control and restraint
[00:11:19] Siebe Van Der Zee: Interesting. Lesson number three, temperance is about self-control and restraint.
[00:11:25] Héctor Colón: And you learned this, virtue in the sport of boxing. So, when you’re in that ring and you get hit, you can’t get mad and retaliate and fight back. You have to stay calm and compose and strategize and decide how you’re going to, not get hit again.
Or before the fight, there might be a lot of smash talking and you can’t let that get to your head. You have to stay calm and composed and have temperance and tell yourself, okay, I’m going to take care of that in the ring or when you get, you’re in the ring. And let’s say you get hit with a low blow and the referee doesn’t see.
[00:12:00] You shouldn’t retaliate with a low blow because now the ref might see it and you could, get disqualified. So, the virtue of temperance, I learned again, in boxing. And when I think about this virtue, it’s really about that virtue where you got to learn how to Bob and weave and, and roll with the punches and sometimes even take it out a chin in order to advance your life and your career.
And I’ll give you a real example. And this was. Two and a half years ago. So here I am, I’m in this restaurant with this individual and I saw the conversation not going very well. So, I, I got up and attempted to leave and this individual got right in front of me. Would not, allow me to leave. I gently and firmly put my hand on his chest.
I said, back up, let me leave. He didn’t back up. I tried to sidestep him another time again. He went right in front of me here. I am embarrassed. I’m at this restaurant. I sat
[00:13:00] back down. He began to taunt me, provoke me, make fun of me. I, I could not believe this was happening. And, and my, my hands began to clench. And the thoughts of my head was I’m going to knock this guy out.
I can’t believe he’s treating me this way. And I was thinking about that. It felt like a dream. And all of a sudden, I told myself, I, I said, Lord, help me. And I might have even said that out loud. I don’t know. But when I said that he left and the waitress came and I mean, the waitress came first and then he left.
And I thought about that day and my self-esteem was wounded. I felt like I should have done something about this, but I’m so proud that I had that temperance because not too long ago, there was, and often there’s really nice articles in a newspaper about me when I wrote my book from boxing ring to boardroom.
And, but an article could have looked very differently if I would’ve reacted in a way that lacked temperance, an
[00:14:00] article could have said. President CEO, Héctor Colón knocks out guy, and now is fired. And so, temperance is really important. You know, you got to reflect, take a step back and realize is it worth it?
And obviously in this case it was not.
[00:14:18] Lesson 4: Magnanimity is about striving for excellence
[00:14:18] Siebe Van Der Zee: All right. Lesson number four. Magnanimity is about striving for excellence.
[00:14:23] Héctor Colón: Oh, I learned this in a sport of boxing, you know, uh, Alexandre Havard said, this is the virtue of, of striving for personal excellence. And in boxing, you learn this, you have to have daily habits. Daily rituals and daily routines, that’s really going to bring out the best in you.
So, I remember waking up every single morning, five o’clock in the morning, it would be below zero degrees, could have snow on the ground. And I was out there running. In fact, I would tell myself, talk to myself because my fierceness competitor, Vernon Forrest, who lived in Atlanta, Georgia. He
[00:15:00] was not running in the snow and that was tougher than him.
Then I’d work out in the afternoons, lifting weights. I’d work out in the evenings. After baseball practice, two to three hours in the gym, I was going to sleep early. I was waking up early. I was eating right when my, my friends were drinking beer and eating pizza. I was watching videotapes of some of the greatest who I’ve ever graced to ring my daily habits, rituals and routines were such that I could become a champion.
And so, when I think about this virtue, I think about life. You know, if you want to bring out the best in yourself as a CEO, I believe you have to have a plan of life. And for me, it’s, it’s a balanced approach, prayer and meditation working out. Reading professional development. I’m doing all of those things surrounding myself with other great individuals and mentors and people I can learn from so that I can bring my best self to my work, to
[00:16:00] my employees so that they can bring their best selves to others as well.
[00:16:04] Siebe Van Der Zee: Yeah, I like that. And do you feel that, that people, that you work with, people that you know, that they have the same mindset about those things?
[00:16:14] Héctor Colón: You know? Absolutely. So, for example, my team, they pray, they, they work out, uh, they eat right. Uh, they meditate, and all of those things bring out the best in them, which in turn brings out the best in me.
And really the 800 colleagues that, that work at Lutheran social services of Wisconsin in upper Michigan. Now not everybody, exhibits the virtue of magnanimity, uh, and the work ethic that, um, you need to have in order to live that virtue out. But I am blessed, uh, to be surrounded by individuals that do, and because they do it makes me a better person and leader as well.
[00:16:53] Siebe Van Der Zee: That’s a very good point.
[00:16:56] Lesson 5: Perseverance is about not giving up
[00:16:56] Siebe Van Der Zee: Lesson number five, perseverance is about
[00:17:00] not giving up. Boy. I have in my own office; I have a I guess a plaque on the wall, and it says perseverance is the strength to remain steadfast against all odds. What’s your story behind perseverance is not about giving up?
[00:17:14] Héctor Colón: Again, I learned this in boxing, so I, I lost my first fight and wanted to give up right away. And my coach was like, come on champ, you have natural abilities. Don’t give up champ, you could do this. And so, he convinced me, I, fought again and I lost again. And this time I was like, shorty, I really want to give up.
There’s nothing fun about this intense fear. I feel. Then I lose, then I start crying. And I’m humiliated. I, I, I said, I just don’t want to do this anymore. And then he was like, come on champ, don’t be a quitter champ. You could, you could become a champ. And he was right. You know, I ended up continuing on and became the seven-time national champion.
[00:18:00] And, uh, was on the rise to the, to make it to the Olympics in Barcelona, Spain in 1992, I ended up losing. In Barcelona, Spain and I was shattered. My dreams are shattered. I was no longer going to win that gold medal. I wasn’t going to go to Barcelona, Spain. I wasn’t hearing from those big-time promoters, but I kept on, six months later, I fight the same guy that robbed me of my Olympic dreams.
And this time I knocked him out in the first round for the US championship. By not giving up early on in my boxing career, I’ve benefited so much from boxing. So, I got to have this global perspective here I am. I’m representing the United States of America, national boxing team. There’s a lot of responsibility and prestige behind that.
And so, I remember going to Poland I had, I brought my own biases in Poland because I thought the Polish
[00:19:00] people were going to be racist because I was bullied by a racist person. So that wasn’t true. So obviously that, that global perspective, all of the virtues I learned in a sport of boxing, would’ve never happened if I would’ve given up.
[00:19:14] Siebe Van Der Zee: Well said I think indeed it is so important not to give up because we all go through life with, you know, ups and downs and the downs especially can affect us deeply.
I see that of course with, careers, people, that are not in their own mind, not successful, but we all have to find our inner self and have the courage to move forward. And I would agree that if you work on it, it, it takes work many times. It’s not just, oh, well, tomorrow everything will be fine again. No, it may take some time.
[00:19:51] Héctor Colón: And the other point I wanted to share here, if I can please, is that. Generally speaking, we’re so, afraid of failure. And
[00:20:00] I think that’s a big mistake, I think because we’re so afraid of failure, many are not reaching our full potential. And so, failure can be a critical thing in your life that could lead you to become a better person.
Become more resilient and ultimately a better leader. I think if you’re never failing in life, you might be taking it too easy and not challenging yourself enough.
[00:20:26] Siebe Van Der Zee: Very, very well said, because I think that’s, in some cases, indeed, when people are fortunate, that becomes an expectation for them, and it may be more difficult then to deal with certain challenges when they occur.
We’re talking today with Héctor Colón former seven times national boxing champion turn into a highly successful business, executive and board member sharing his 10 lessons.
[00:20:51] Lesson 6: Listening is more important than providing feedback
[00:20:51] Siebe Van Der Zee: It’s moving fast. We are already at lesson number six, and I like it. Lesson number six, listening is [00:21:00] more important than providing feedback.
What are your thoughts about that?
[00:21:04] Héctor Colón: You know, I had a really, important, event in my life. It was about, 2013, uh, when I went to Harvard, for a leadership, training, class. And it was wonderful. I was with people from all over the world and. It was very rigorous, and they pretty much said that we needed to spend a lot of time, uh, reviewing these case studies because they really wanted our engagement and involvement and be able to provide, contribute, uh, to the discussion.
So, you know, I’m a fighter. I was real focused. I was reading the material. I took meticulous notes, and I was ready to contribute. And I did. And many of the students. Would make, good comments about my insights and how I contributed, but then there was one woman, during, you know, probably halfway into the weeklong course that I took. I gave my insights, and she says,
[00:22:00] Hector, I’m sorry, you know, those insights were good, but you took us backward in the conversation.
You were not listening to the conversation because you took us in a different direction. And I was so impressed with her, that she had the courage, uh, to share that with me. And it was such an important lesson for me at that point almost 10 years ago. But I started to reflect on that, and have I done that in the past, in other meetings that nobody made me aware of because they didn’t have the courage to tell me.
So, since that time I’ve really, uh, taken that feedback to heart. And I really try not to be the first one speaking to, to listen, to reflect, uh, to chime in, you know, maybe at times, uh, but certainly not to be the first one, uh, speaking and, and contributing. And I give thanks, to her for
[00:23:00] having the courage to, to give me that feedback.
[00:23:02] Siebe Van Der Zee: I think it’s a very important point that you’re raising, because it seems to be part of natural human behavior to listen. Your thoughts are going and then to comment and literally when you force yourself by saying, I’m going to listen to this person. And I’m going to keep my mouth shut.
It, it can be extremely helpful, not only to really understand what that person is saying and how they are saying it, but also it may not be that relevant.
What my thoughts are, what my opinion is. Right?
[00:23:38] Héctor Colón: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And as a CEO, You don’t want to be the one talking, I mean, you want ideas and perspectives and engagement, to come from your team. You hired them for a reason. They are very smart individuals. And so don’t get me wrong.
The, you know, CEO has input and of course, you know, wants
[00:24:00] the drive strategy and, and vision. Uh, but we shouldn’t be the ones talking first. We should listen, gather that information. And provide our insights, uh, when necessary, but rely on your team to do that. So, for me, uh, almost 10 years ago, that was a really valuable lesson that I learned.
And, I’ll be honest, you know, sometimes, I get distracted and so somebody will give an idea and I’ll get fascinated by, uh, that idea. And I’m already looking 10 years ahead, of some, idea that they brought forth. And I might kind of lose focus a little bit. So, I challenge myself, not to do that.
So maybe I lose focus for a few seconds, but then I, I try to snap out of it and come back. So, I’m, I’m more intentional about that. Especially as a result of that feedback I received almost 10 years ago.
[00:24:50] Siebe Van Der Zee: What you just said, I think is very important. It’s the awareness that you are aware that perhaps you should allow more time to let that person
[00:25:00] speak and for you to let the information sink in
And I think that is already the key for people to be aware of not only what they are saying, but what other people are saying. One of the things that I look for as a recruiter in a management situation is. Energy, the candidates need to have energy doesn’t mean talking loud, talking fast, but there has to be a drive a certain passion.
And is that person able to energize the people that work for him or her? And at the same time, I can only find out by listening or sometimes observing someone in the way they communicate. It’s not for me to speed them up or slow them down. Right. And that’s, another element, but that, makes sense.
and I think it’s, the awareness of your own communication style to tell yourself, stay quiet and listen. Even though we all have,
[00:26:00] I think that need to jump in and give our thoughts and opinions about things.
[00:26:06] Lesson 7: Empathy is about your willingness to walk in some else’s shoes
[00:26:06] Siebe Van Der Zee: It goes well to the next lesson. Lesson number seven. Empathy is about your willingness to walk in someone else’s shoes.
[00:26:14] Héctor Colón: Yeah, it’s a very important, value or virtue if you want to call it, especially now with all the civil unrest, and the political polarization, it’s a difficult environment to live in. right now we’ve experienced that during the last two years of COVID. And so, what I, I like to say is, yeah, how can we better understand one another?
That doesn’t mean we have to exactly think alike. But at least we’re able to walk in someone’s shoes, listen to them and a appreciate them as a human being. And I’ll give you a, a really good example, for me in my life. So, when I became the director of health and human services, went through the process and then the county executive,
[00:27:00] who was my boss at the time called me into the office and said, are you still interested in the position? I want to offer it to you. And I said yes, but I, I feel there’s a couple things I need to share with you that are core to my values that, I don’t think there will compromise my position in any way or be a factor, but I think it’s really important for you to understand, where I stand, because these are values that I, cannot compromise on.
And he says, what is it? And I said, I told him that I was pro-life and that I felt marriage, was between a man and a woman. But I said, I don’t think this will play a role in my job. And just so you know, I love everybody. I’ll respect anybody.
If they think differently than me, it doesn’t matter. but these are my values And he told me there, he said, Hector, This is even more reason why I want you
[00:28:00] to be on my team because you stand for your values and you’re so strong on that, that that’s really special. And would you be part of my team?
And we have talked about that in, in other settings. We did a panel interview with each other. We’ve shared that experience because, we’ve continued to be friends since then I attended his wedding. We’re great friends. We go to bucks’ games together. And I, that’s a really good example of, we don’t have to think exactly alike, but how can we appreciate each other as human beings, even if we have those differences?
[00:28:35] Siebe Van Der Zee: It’s a heavy-duty issue, right? I would say around the world in many countries, and I don’t claim to know every issue in every country, but the willingness to accept that people have different opinions, different thoughts, different beliefs. Is extremely important. And I also understand that it can be very difficult if you have a certain
[00:29:00] belief and certain principles, and you’re entitled to that.
If there are other people that have the opposite behavior or, value systems, it has to, obviously from time to time, there’s a fine line that you have to take. But what you’re saying is to, to show that respect and, to have a willingness as you put it to walk in someone else’s shoes.
[00:29:24] Héctor Colón: And Chris Aley knew for me, it was my, faith and background that helps, formulate, my values.
And, and for him it was something different, you know, but I, got to respect his thoughts and his opinions. He respected mine and like I said, uh, we’re great friends, and we shouldn’t allow these issues to divide us. That’s what we’re seeing now more than ever, in the political arena. So, I think it’s really unfortunate.
I think neither party, if I can get into politics a little bit, neither party
[00:30:00] should compromise their values. What has happened is we have gone so far to the extremes on both sides, in my opinion. And there’s so much that can be solved in the middle here that doesn’t get solved because of these polarizing issues.
And we can’t just come together and do the right thing. Uh, so personally, I, I think it’s very frustrating by friend Chris Aley, uh, would tell you the same thing. and so, there’s many of us, I, I think there’s so many of us in our country that believe this. Uh, it’s just kind of disappointing that, politics is the way it is.
[00:30:33] Siebe Van Der Zee: And I would add to that, it’s not just in the United States, right? These issues are all over the world. Every society, every country, more or less, will deal with this. And. We always feel that we are right. And if someone has a different opinion, it’s almost they are wrong. And there is very little understanding for that other opinion or behavior, but good point.
[00:30:59] Lesson 8: Stewardship is about paying it forward
[00:30:59] Siebe Van Der Zee: Lesson number eight stewardship is about paying it forward.
[00:31:05] Héctor Colón: You know, stewardship is so important, especially for, a CEO. So, I’m going to give you an example of LSS before I got here. So LSS short for Lutheran Social Services or Wisconsin, upper Michigan. So, we met two budgets over a 10-year period. And during that period of time, the organization lost 13 million dollars.
And so, when I came in here, I knew there were challenges. I didn’t know they were that big, but we made lots of courageous decisions that led to a major turnaround. So, we divested up 13 million worth of programs. We flattened the organization by a million dollars. We renegotiated our contracts in some cases saw double digit increases.
One case 60% increase, in the green bay area. We, uh, initiated a productivity initiative that
[00:32:00] added millions of dollars to the bottom line. But that wasn’t enough. Then we had to divest of those $13 million worth of programs. But all of these things have led to a 17.6 million turnaround. The organization has met its budget by far every year, since this new team has, has been here over the last four years.
And what has this done that has allowed us to pay our colleagues better, Commensurate to the value they provide society. That means that, you know, we’re able to, to meet our budget and also be viable. Not only this year, but the, for the next five and 10 years for the next 140 years, LSS has been around for hundred 40 years.
So, our team and our board feel this huge sense of obligation and responsibility to ensure the long-term viability of this organization and the organization today. Is the strongest it’s
[00:33:00] been, in the last 15 years. So that, that stewardship is so important. It’s important for the donors. It’s important for the contracted, partners that we have.
And it’s also important for our colleagues and, and the people we serve.
[00:33:16] Siebe Van Der Zee: In some situations, perhaps you see that company owners or senior management, they have major benefits themselves out of a certain situation in their organization, whether they sell off a division or, or et cetera. But then paying it forward. Right. That seems to be in some cases a challenge.
[00:33:38] Héctor Colón: Yeah. So how can we in all of our decisions, think about how this can benefit others. So not just you, I think when you take that approach and you pay it forward, you’re concerned about others. You’re concerned about your colleagues, your leadership team, whenever you do that, it’s always going to result in better
[00:34:00] outcomes, especially long term.
And so, I like to gravitate towards that, and I think, that, stewardship is, is so important and it’s not talked about a lot.
[00:34:10] Siebe Van Der Zee: It seems to be very much an individual choice. Where perhaps like in your case, you say absolutely paying it forward. Make sure my team will benefit. In other cases, perhaps the, the choice of management is, well, as long as I’m taken care of.
Right. And, and you see that in so many ways, when people, lay off employees, you know, we’ve seen examples where they did it over a zoom call and say, Hey, thank you very much, but you’re no longer working for our company. Um the personal aspect sometimes gets lost because of well, whatever excuse they come up with.
Yeah. And, um, again, it is an individual choice and that lesson I think is, uh, is important. But it is an individual choice paying it forward.
[00:34:59] Héctor Colón: Yes, absolutely.
[00:35:01] Lesson 9: Commitment to growth of people is a great way to give back
[00:35:01] Siebe Van Der Zee: Lesson number nine, commitment to growth of people is a great way to give back. Well, it, fits with the previous lesson paying it forward, but commitment to growth of people is a great way to give back.
[00:35:14] Héctor Colón: Yeah, I think about this virtue. And I, I think about several people in my life that I’m so grateful to, for the mentorship, the support and the belief. And I start off with shorty, just his belief in me from, from very young. I mean he knew and believe I was going to be a champion and that belief that he had in me, expanded my self-confidence, uh, in myself, but then I’ve had other people along my career and, and one individual that I think about is Ricardo I used to work under him, uh, at the United community center. He was the executive director. I was the associate executive director, but then he really believed in me, you know, and supported
[00:36:00] me to move out of the organization, expand into being a lobbyist, uh, without any lobbying experience, expanded to be the director for economic development, which is, uh, at WEDA, which is the second largest bank by way of assets in the state of Wisconsin with no banking background, no financing background, but Ricardo was always behind me making recommendations and believing in me that I could step into these roles and, and do a great job.
So, I’m very appreciative of shorty. Very appreciative of Ricardo. Also, another guy is José Olivieri. Who’s actually the, my board chair right now. He’s been behind me for so many years. And I’m so thankful because of these individuals, they have made me better. As a person. And so, going to the paying it forward, like how can I be there for others?
And I, I am there for others because I know it’s important. There’s a balance,
[00:37:00] right? Because I can get, I can get over consumed, with individuals that want to meet with me. You know, I, I feel like I got to pay it forward and, and give back to those individuals, given to those individuals the way I receive from, others.
But it is a balance. Sometimes you can’t overcommit yourself because then you won’t do a good job for anybody. But I do believe that, helping others is so important because I was helped in my life.
[00:37:27] Siebe Van Der Zee: It’s within you, right? This is not something that you have to remind yourself of. It’s an automatic response, perhaps that you have to people is that, is that fair?
[00:37:37] Héctor Colón: Absolutely. That is fair. And I also think about my mother. Because how giving and generous she was. So, my mother has a seventh-grade education. My mother and father got a divorce when I was 12 years old. And my father moved to Puerto Rico. Completely gone, no money, no calls just gone.
And my mom was working
[00:38:00] two at sometimes three jobs. My sister, uh, I was 12. She was 17. She was addicted to drugs. Had core occurring mental illness. My mother never complained. She would serve my sister. My sister would have boyfriends. She would make sure. With similar situations of my sister, my mother would make sure they had food clothes, taking their medications, really did everything a paid case manager would do without receiving a dime.
We were taking in the homeless, family members. My mother was hugely generous and, uh, I learned that, from her as well.
[00:38:37] Siebe Van Der Zee: Very very impressive to hear. And it makes your story even more complete it’s one thing, uh, Hector to talk about seven times national boxing champion. Wow. But the story is behind you as an individual, uh, including of course your mother and, and some of the people that kind of served as a coach for you,
[00:39:00] uh, have taught you lessons and, clearly you are giving back.
Paying it forward. Uh, very nice.
[00:39:06] Lesson 10: Building community is about equity diversity and inclusion
[00:39:06] Siebe Van Der Zee: It brings us to lesson number 10. Building community is about equity, diversity and inclusion. Why is that so important?
[00:39:19] Héctor Colón: You know, um, equity, diversity and inclusion is so important because it’s really about understanding one another. connecting with one another. Building relationships, connections, and, and ultimately community. And I think we, we need to do a lot more of that. I don’t know where you live, but where I live in, in Wisconsin, we’re considered one of the most segregated cities.
Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in, in the country. And I think that’s really unfortunate because that does not allow the diversity of friendship and perspectives to come together. and I think that’s really unfortunate,
[00:40:00] but we should always try to build those connections, build those friendships, so we can, eliminate our own biases.
And I’ll give you an example where, when I went to Poland, I think I shared a little bit. When I went to Poland and I went there with my own biases because I was bullied by a Polish kid and I didn’t experience, you know, racist people in Poland. I met the Polish president and they treated me great. And they even gave me their blood soup, which I didn’t like very much, but, uh, we had a great time over there.
And I remember going to Russia where people said, oh, don’t go to Russia. They’re terrible people. I had one of the greatest times in, in Russia when I was there. Uh, but how can we have better conversations with our own neighbors, building up those friendships and so that we could do something together for our communities, uh, to make them better.
I, I think it’s very important and it’s probably not happening
[00:41:00] enough today.
[00:41:01] Siebe Van Der Zee: But how, how do we accept diverse thoughts and expressions and opinions? Because yes, we can be open to it, but how can we accept it?
[00:41:13] Héctor Colón: I think it goes back to the virtue of empathy. And so, we, we don’t have to think exactly alike, but how can at least try to listen?
Understand and respect. And in some cases, your opinion might sway a little bit, but the important thing is that it doesn’t have to, but that you at least respect that person, and you can obtain a friendship with that person, even if you are thinking is much different from each other.
[00:41:41] Siebe Van Der Zee: Again, these issues, Occur around the world. And it’s not that you and I simply in this conversation can resolve that all, but. I’m struggling with it. You are struggling with it because we understand that that’s not the solution to disagree and disrespect
[00:42:00] people. And, uh, we have to accept diversity and inclusion and not just to check the box, but to actually, Included and activated and take advantage in a positive way of that because diversity broadens our perspective.
These are issues that play around the world. And then the simple question, but very difficult answer is, so how do we solve that? How do we solve that? Because it’s, it’s, we’re so convinced that the other people are wrong, and we are right.
[00:42:31] Héctor Colón: You know, you made a great point about checking the box. I, I think that’s what we have been doing.
We’ve been taking a technical approach to a behavioral issue. So, for example, you know, we’re going to say, okay, we’re going to require this training and we’re going to change this policy and maybe we’re going to hire a person. You know, all of those things might be good, uh, and even necessary. But unless we
[00:43:00] have authentic conversations and we speak to the heart, and we be real about our situations.
Those are the tough conversations that need to happen in order for us to really liberate in order for us to really have equity, diversity inclusion. So, when I’m having these kinds of conversations, Uh, with others, other business leaders, I’m on the greater Milwaukee committee with over 200, uh, business leaders in the Milwaukee area.
And we have these conversations and, and a lot of times I feel the conversation gravitates towards. Technical solutions. And I say, those are important, but we got to get real with each other. And let’s, let’s talk with each other. Let’s get to the heart. And, and really, I think is the root of the matter.
So, both of them are important, but let’s build friendship. And relationship through those authentic conversations.
I, I want to add one other word in, in that it’s a
[00:44:00] concept awareness. Yeah. Once we become aware of why that individual has a certain thought or opinion, and we understand the why behind it.
Sometimes that will help us to have a better understanding and perhaps a little bit more respect. Uh, I see that in cross-cultural behavior, the way people, uh, live their lives and, and do their business in a different country than perhaps the country in which we were born and raised. and. To become aware of the differences doesn’t mean that you say, well, I like it better what they are doing and what they are saying, or, their, their belief system.
But at least there’s an understanding of why there are differences and in the much bigger picture. My gosh, there are so many different types of belief, systems and behaviors that, um, we have to keep that open mind. So
[00:45:00] I, I really appreciate that.
I want to ask you, we covered 10 lessons. Is there perhaps a lesson Hector, that in your life, in your career, you have unlearned anything that you experienced? Yeah. Well, maybe I should do that differently or have done differently.
Yeah. Well remember I used to be a fighter and a boxer, so I had to unlearn, uh, how to always want to fight, through my life and my career.
And I remember even when I was a boxer, like if I would get hit. Sometimes I would want to fight and get back. And, and my coach always told me, he said, Héctor, this is not a fight. This is a boxing match. Calm down, compose yourself. Don’t go there crazy. And so, I think about, just My journey, in my leadership, you know, there’s been a lot of uncomfortable situations.
Maybe somebody said something that was very unfair about me. You know, even in the
[00:46:00] media, like when I was director of health and human services, very public, uh, position. I’m like, how could somebody say that about me? And so just having, that temperance and realizing you don’t always have. To fight, you know, you want to be more strategic about how you address that specific thing.
So, don’t always be out there fighting, man. You got to, you got to learn when to pick your battles.
[00:46:23] Siebe Van Der Zee: It’s an interesting one. a, It’s a very good lesson to unlearn indeed. And, and coming from you as a boxer, that is, let’s say powerful. I like that.
Well, listen, I, I really appreciate, of course, having this conversation with you and, I think that this is something we really like to share with our global audience.
I think it’s, it’s quite impressive. I want to make a few closing comments. you have been listening. To the international podcast, 10 lessons it took me 50 years to learn sponsored by PDF. The Professional Development Forum. PDF provides
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For more information, please visit www.professionaldevelopmentforum.org, Our guest today was Héctor Colón from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A former national boxing champion turned into a very successful business, executive and board member sharing his 10 lessons. It took him 50 years to learn. And to our audience, don’t forget to leave as a review or a comment.
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