In the 90s, if you would have asked me whom I thought the coolest person in the world was, unequivocally I would have answered my brother Aaron. I wanted to be just like him and would be overjoyed when he granted me the chance to tag along on an adventure around Saginaw. We are separated by about 17 earth trips around the sun, so when I was born he was on his way out of high school and into the military, and by the time I realized that I was person and what a brother even was he was there to fill a role of a second father. Our father is 41 years my senior, so Aaron helped plug a generational gap or 2.
It was perfect, I got wise counsel from my actual father and situations I would soon be dealing with and what’s popular from my brother. You know one of those popular things I always admired most about my brother, his high-top fade! I wanted one so bad, so much so that when I was five or six years old I would try to avoid haircuts and comb the peak of my hair up when length permitted, but it was always short-lived because of my regular pilgrimage to Inez’s Barbershop on Genesee. I don’t remember much about Inez’s but I do remember you could buy tamales there (you can buy tamales in the strangest places in Saginaw).
Fades to Braids
By the time I had the autonomy to make my own haircut decisions, the high-top fade was a relic of an era that once was and had since been replaced with tapered fades, s-curls (not for long – thank God), afros and the quintessential style of my adolescence – cornrows (braids). I rocked all of those styles, but I would have to say that braids were my favorite and most long-standing. I endured that painful process from the beginning of high school until I transferred to Central Michigan University, where I opted for a more conservative taper. I loved my hair, but it had become too much.
Touch the Sky
I rocked my taper until my time in Denver when something amazing happened. Do you know what that amazing was? The style I longed for in my early life was back and at that moment I learned a very important lesson about black culture, it’s cyclical; not only our hair but the entire culture. I mean the entirety of the 90s came back, good and bad. So I figured this was it, now or never. Sheldon, you’re growing your hair, and I did. I maintained it myself because during my time in Denver I taught myself how to cut my own hair and I got better with every pass of the clippers. I maintained that routine the entire two and half years. Back to the point, my hair was rising and so was my sense of pride. Then it happened.
I was picking out my hair with my black fist afro pick for my weekly shape-up, scratched the top of my head and I thought, “that felt strange.” I lifted up my handheld mirror, turned my back to my vanity mirror to examine the situation and my heart sunk through my stomach into my intestines. I could kind of, barely, possibly see my scalp. You might be thinking what’s the big deal, why was that an issue? Historically, my hair has been thicker than a baptist church mother’s homemade 7-Up Cake. The only time I’ve ever seen my scalp was when I was parting my hair to put it into ponytails between braids and that one time I zeeked myself with the clippers in Denver. “Why are you wearing a knit hat and it is 70 degrees out?” “I have a cold.”
Here are the Leadership Lessons for the People Who Don’t Care about my Story
The months after I discovered my thinning crown were excruciating. My suspicions were confirmed, I was indeed losing my hair – well at least a portion of it. I was only 20 something, my father has all of his hair (I knew baldness was maternal, but that didn’t matter) and Brummell’s just didn’t lose hair. Why me? I had some really tough decisions to make. Looking back, I can now draw parallels to how working through that process related to leadership:
- Conflict – Leaders are tasked with helping their teams work through conflict. My conflict was that my hair was falling out and my life was over. Do you think I am exaggerating a little? It didn’t feel like it then.
- Don’t Ignore It – As leaders, sometimes we have the tendency to believe that if we ignore a problem for long enough, the problem will either work itself out or just go away. Wrong, wrong, WRONG – that rarely ever happens. You have to be proactive in dealing with your issue(s), so I was. I bought lots of product.
- Shampoo, conditioner, vitamins, biotin, grease, oils, gels, soaps, creams – YOU NAME IT!!
- Don’t Get Discouraged – None of those products worked, this was obviously God’s doing. Well, I am lying a little. They did work, I smelled really good and the rest of my hair was growing really fast – too fast, honestly. Just not the hair I wanted, so I adjusted.
- Don’t Hide The Issue – I did for a while. Honestly, it worked aesthetically because the rest of my hair was growing long and fast and the remaining hair on my crown provided enough cover to shape. It was going well until some well-meaning young woman touched my hair at church and looked a little puzzled. She said I won’t tell anybody. I knew then I had some decisions to make.
- Don’t Settle – For a while, I thought I could just live with it, you know? A thin spot in the middle of my head, plenty of guys have thin spots in the middle of their heads. Why should I think I am above that? Because. I. Know. Me. That just wasn’t going to work.
- You Have To Do What You Have To Do – I had to make a business decision that would calm my insecurities and level my stress filled mind out.
- I was going way too bald, I had to cut it. Cut it, cut it, cut it, cut it…
- Not a Little Problem – Cutting off my beloved high-top fade worked for the interim, but the problem was worse than I thought. My hair was still thinning. A few months after the big chop I realized I was still thinning and now I didn’t have any other hair to hide it. If you know me now, I guess you knew what I was thinking – Cut it, cut it, cut it, cut… but this wasn’t the same as just a haircut. This was intentionally going bald. Wow, just wow.
- Pray – Lord, fix it. You know how many strands I have on my head and I want to keep them all. Amen.
- Seek Wise Counsel – Bruhs, I am thinking about shaving my head?
- Don’t do it
- You’re going to look like Will Smith as Deadshot (He was right)
- Dan – “I should have done it a while ago
- Listen – Dan offered the best advice of them all, but the reason I liked Dan’s advice was because it agreed with my gut feeling. We have the propensity to filter responses through our own desires and motives. Dan’s advice was what I wanted to hear and on that occasion, it was indeed the best advice. However, this thinking can get us in trouble if we are not careful. Be sure that you are listening with an open heart and open mind, and do your best to quiet your own biases, or else you will get stuck in listening level #3; selective hearing.
- Vision – I knew I was going to shave my head, but first I had to come up with a plan and every plan starts with a vision. I knew that if I didn’t grow a beard first I would look like a milk dud, so I started the process. Only when I felt my beard was a sufficient length was when I decided to go through with my master plan. This is important because you have to put first things first. Often times, as the leader we like to skip steps and cut corners, which in the long run will cost us more than going with the original plan.
- Do it – I pulled the trigger Homecoming 2015 at Central Michigan University. Marcus Mackey was the barber and he did a great job. I loved it. He talked me through what he was doing and why. Remember, explaining the why to your teams is important. That is where motivation comes from because people want to know how this benefits their value system. Why should I choose Part A over Part B when Part B is cheaper? You have to explain why.
- Sustain – This is where many businesses struggle and I realized with my hair it would be no different. I came to the conclusion in short order that I wasn’t really that bald, I was just pretending. I still had a lot of hair because it showed itself every other day. However, I could not ignore it and had to deal with the new growth because I signed up for it. So, I have to maintain my bald head. It is a work of love at times, but I get it done. I have learned through sustainment that:
- Pass over with clippers first (more work on the front end, but you save time and irritation on the back)
- Shave in the shower (only after sufficient mirror practice and you get a feel for your head)
- Don’t use cooling shaving cream (didn’t feel very cool in my eyes)
- After Shave (it burns but it burns for a reason)
- Purification always burns because something else is dying (message)
Now, when you see a bald bearded man on the street you can be motivated by how the sun glistens off his scalp. Inspiration can come from anywhere. We are only limited by how we view the world and our own imagination. True leaders have a vision, inspire vision in others and undoubtedly have active imaginations. That was my imagination at work.