Two Dozen Basic Management Principles (Pt. 12)

The fourth New York snapshot involved another meeting with Rob and Barb Rogers in the Fall of 2001.

The weather turned cold early his first fall in Syracuse. At least he thought it was cold. When you grow up in a place that sits just above the equator with an average temperature of 104 degrees twelve months a year, any temperature below eighty feels like an arctic blast. By October, the temperature in upstate New York rarely climbs above seventy. Lopez thought he had moved to the North Pole.

One Saturday in October, he caught a break. The sun came out, the temperature warmed, and the Rogers suggested they take advantage of the weather and spend the day on the lake.

As they ate chicken and floated on the lake, Rob said: “You know, this is pretty much a perfect day.”

“We never had days like this in Kakuma,” Lopez said. “It was always hot and dry. The wind kicked up dust storms that made it hard to breathe. We didn’t have any grass, only dirt.”

“That had to be a hard place to live,” Barb said. Lopez could tell she had a lot of questions, but she didn’t ask them. This was the first time that Lopez talked about what life was like in the refugee camp. The Rogers never tried to get Lopez to open up about what he’d been through. Lopez didn’t want to talk much about it either. The past was the past. He had a new life in America.

However, after four months in the Rogers’ home, Lopez realized he was not here by mistake. Mom and Dad wanted him here. A little light clicked on for him during the cross-country season. They came to every single meet. They never missed one. No other parents came to all the meets. And they weren’t just there; they cheered for him and celebrated when he won like he was their real son. That’s when he started to understand that they genuinely loved and cared about him.

“Very hard,” Lopez said. He took a deep breath and started talking. He talked for a long time. The Rogers sat and listened. Lopez told them how the soldiers stole him from his mother’s arms at church and took him to a prison camp. He told them about the horrors in the prison camp. He told them about escaping in the night with his three angels and his three-day run across the savannah. He talked about day-to-day life in Kakuma and how he looked forward to Tuesday trash day for his best meal of the week.

He talked and talked. Barb cried. Rob fought back tears. That day on the lake, Rob and Barbara Rogers stopped being two very nice but naïve people who allowed him to live in their house. They became Lopez’ mom and dad.

Management Lesson #15 – Show Compassion

Compassion is one of the most overlooked of all project management leadership traits. There is a tremendous opportunity for your compassion to make a difference in how people view you and how they view themselves. Showing compassion will lead to a better experience with your staffs, create an experience that people remember (and like), create commitment, and buy forgiveness – all of which make you a more effective project manager.

The final New York snapshot during these years, occurred in the early summer of 2003. Lopez was sitting in the backyard with two other lost boys that the Rogers’ had adopted (both Sudanese from Kakuma) when an older Kakuma friend in Syracuse called him. “Joseph, someone was in Kakuma today looking for you,” he said.

“For me,” Lopez asked. “Who could possibly have been looking for me in Kakuma?”

“Your mother.”

At the urging of Barb, Lopez called his mother on a cell phone of an official at the refugee camp. His mother had not heard his voice since he was six years old. He was now eighteen. She expected the voice of a child, not a full-grown man. “No, this does not sound like my Lopepe. You must be the wrong child.”

“Mother, it is me. Lopepe. The soldiers tore me from your arms when I was six years old.” His voice cracked. Tears flowed down his face.

“Lopepe….you’re alive,” his mother said.

“Yes, Mother, I am alive.” Lopez wept. “And Father, is he…?” Lopez could not finish his sentence.

“Yes, he is alive. Where are you?”

“America,” Lopez said.

This encounter started a regular series of phone calls between Lopez and his mother. She always asked when he was coming home. He answered that he cannot come back to Africa now. She never understood how far away America was from Kakuma.  They had a variation of this conversation at the end of every phone call. She wanted Lopez back home. But Lopez could not go back to Africa. He had a dream. He needed to run in the Olympics for the USA.

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