One-on-One | The Connection Between Innovation and Leadership | Season 2023 | Episode 2656


(upbeat music) – Folks.

Recently, my colleague on our sister program, “Lessons and Leadership,” Mary Gamba sat down and spoke with Reverend DeForest Soaries, President of Corporate Community Connections, a spiritual leader for many, many years, in one of the fastest growing congregations in the state and nation.

Reverend Soaries, brilliant, thoughtful, inspiring, spiritual.

It was a conversation about leadership, but it has implications in so many other areas.

So we wanted to share it with you here on One-on-One as well.

– Lessons in Leadership is honored to be joined by the Honorable Reverend DeForest Buster Soaries, Jr, President, Corporate Community Connections Inc, and also was the senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens for 31 years, Reverend, 31 years.

– In one place.

(chuckles) Yes, sir.

– Thank you for joining us, my friend.

– Thank you Steve, good to see you.

– We’ll put up the website for Corporate Community Connections, tell everyone what it is and why it’s so impactful in the community.

– Well, I work with corporations and connecting them with underserved communities to bring resources that otherwise wouldn’t exist, and to help corporations expand their corporate social responsibility.

– You know, Reverend Soaries is connected, we’re connected to him in so many ways, he’s wired all over the place, all over the country.

One of the last times we saw each other was when we worked together at Fedway, one of our longtime partners, the Fedway Leadership Academy, that our company Stand and Deliver has been doing leadership development for many years.

And it’s interesting, Reverend Soaries and I, we do this Q&A in front of all the candidates in the academy.

Reverend, do we ever prep or talk beforehand?

– Never.

(chuckles) We never talk.

Well, we don’t prep for that session, but what you do in your life, and what I do in my life is a constant state of preparation.

– Yeah, talk about that, because it’s so interesting, Reverend Soaries comes in, and he’s so easy to engage, because he not only knows what he wants to say but he also connects with those candidates in a leadership academy, just like he connected with his congregation for so many years.

You talked about how, do this again for us, Reverend, it’s one thing to be so engaging in a conversation, in an interview or whatever it is like this, or in the Fed Way Leadership Academy.

But real quick, could you tell folks watching on Lessons in Leadership, how you prepared for your sermon?

– Well, you know, Steve, I think you’re really aspiring to be a Baptist preacher, because you ask me this question as often as you can.

Well, as you know, being a Baptist pastor, I’m preaching to the same crowd every Sunday, and for years we had three services, one at seven, one at nine, one at 11.

And you don’t want to just recite slogans, you want to be relevant, you have to be ready, and so every Sunday morning after I would deliver my Sunday morning message, I’d go home, I’d get some rest, and then I’d begin working on next Sunday, Sunday night.

I wouldn’t go to bed on Sunday night until I knew what point I wanted to make next Sunday.

And I’d spend Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday perfecting that point, fleshing out my proposition, answering my relevant questions, and then Thursday, Friday and Saturday I would literally live with the message.

Thus, by Sunday, the message was really a part of me.

So much so, that by Wednesday, I literally couldn’t remember what I preached last Sunday, because I was so focused on next Sunday.

– Real quick, what do you mean live, I’m sorry for, what do you mean live with the message?

– It became a part of me, it wasn’t just an intellectual message, but it was a part of my being, it became a part of my personality, it became a part of my personal narrative.

Because I believe communications starts with the message the communicator communicates with him or herself, and if the the message does not resonate between me and me, then it probably won’t stick with the audience, and so I have to have a message that I feel is impactful for me, for my life.

I’ve gotta have stories that inspire me, I’ve gotta have words that relate to me.

So in many ways, Steve, for public speakers, the audience is really overhearing a conversation between the speaker and him or herself – Mary, how long we been preaching that to our students and participants?

They’re freaked out, Reverend Soaries, about having to make a speech or a presentation.

And we always ask ’em, what do you care deeply about?

Well, what do you mean, I have to memorize a speech.

No, you don’t.

You have to tell us what you care deeply about and why we should care.

Mary, jump in, ’cause I know that you’ve been wanting to talk to the Reverend for a while, go ahead.

– Oh yeah, no, definitely, and I’m just so honored to have you here with us.

And you talk about the message that you’re sharing, and I think there is a lot of correlation between whether you’re talking to the people in your church, or also people in business, right?

Or the community for that matter.

When it comes to getting buy-in of these messages, you’re going in there, you have this message you want people to follow in such a way that you’re preaching something that is so important to you, how do you get buy-in from your team, from your congregation, around these very important messages?

– Well, it doesn’t matter if the audience is a church, if the audience is an academic institution, if the audience is a corporate group, you start by understanding what their needs are, what their goals are, what their aspirations are, otherwise, you’re talking to yourself.

And so, you wanna understand what the issues are, what the triggers are for that particular audience.

I was with in North Carolina last week speaking to a group of bankers, and it was important to me that I understood their priorities.

And once I understood their priorities, then I could shape my message around, not just motivating, but educating them on strategies that they had never considered.

Reverend, I wanna follow up on something.

One of the themes that you talked about at the Fedway Leadership Academy, and that you’ve talked about before, is, there’s a quote from you, “I learned to accept problems as opportunities to create solutions.”

Please talk about that.

– Well, you know, some of the best business minds will inform us that a successful business is a business that solves a problem.

And if the problem is known, then you approach marketing your product, or marketing your service one way.

If the problem is unknown, like the iPhone, we didn’t know we needed smartphones, but Steve- – Steve Jobs told us we needed this.

– And now how do we live without them?

– Yeah, he convinced us that the flip phone was a problem and he had the solution.

So what happens is, every problem is an opportunity, what’s a problem for one is an opportunity for another, and that opportunity then lends itself to creating a solution, and that solution becomes, not only a message, but it also becomes an enterprise, it becomes a product, it becomes an opportunity for business.

That’s the beauty of America, is that every opportunity has an avenue towards solving that problem.

It really is what makes America just a superior experience in the world.

– Reverend, does that also include the so-called post-COVID experience?

COVID created opportunities, it was a horrible problem, so many people lost their lives, families were devastated, businesses went under, but there’s a, quote unquote, opportunity there?

If so, talk about it.

– Well, as a pastor, I’ll tell you the very first thing I did when COVID shut down the building, I invited the members of my congregation who were younger to adopt the members of my congregation who were older.

At a fast growing church, I got there, it was about 800 members, by the time COVID hit, we had about 7,000 members.

You can appreciate the fact that most of them don’t know each other, and they gravitate towards the people in their own demographic, but this was a tremendous opportunity to create a cross-generational, intergenerational connect, which is harder and harder to find.

We are sliced into these demographic groups, and never the twain shall meet, unfortunately.

And we had young professionals calling seniors who were home bound, single, and that created a dynamic in the church where a problem created a solution and the church became a stronger church.

Not only did we have that “adopt a senior” initiative, but we started feeding people in the neighborhood, and folks who had never volunteered before ended up volunteering to feed people in public housing around the church.

So in that sense, for our congregation specifically, COVID really represented opportunities because of the tremendous problems by not only illness, but sheltering in place, et cetera.

Then look at the larger community, look at the young people who now were useful in many ways because their churches, their jobs, their families needed to use technology.

It was just marvelous to go out from church to church and see these teenagers hooking up the stream, helping older people know how to find the service on Facebook, YouTube.

And so many of them found their place in institutional settings, not only in religious institutions, but even in the workplace, because many of the technology solutions that sustained us during COVID were really executed by younger people who grew up in the digital age, rather than older people who often feared digital technology.

– Before I let you go, Reverend.

You told a story at the Fedway Leadership Academy, I don’t wanna tell the whole story, but there’s a point here.

Reverend Soaries told folks in the academy how we first met back, back, back in the day, right?

That’s even before back in the day.

And so, well, he described me the way he described me, pretty brash, confident, cocky, inappropriately so, at 25 years of age, running for the state legislature, looking for Reverend Soaries’ support in the great city of Montclair that I’m proud to live in, and the Reverend made such a difference in.

Here’s the point of the question.

I know how arrogant and cocky I was, and full of myself, at 25, I wanna believe I’ve evolved just a little bit as a leader over time, in some positive ways.

Biggest change improvement in you as a leader over these last few years, many years, that makes you a better leader is?

– Patience.

I’ve become much more patient.

When I was younger, not only did I believe I could change the world, I thought I could do it before the weekend.

(All laugh) I expected things to happen quickly, I expected things to move in alignment with the need.

And over the years, what I’ve learned is that, A, you probably won’t change the whole world, and B, whatever part of the world you’ll change, it won’t happen quickly, it happens over time, and you have to really settle into incremental growth, incremental change.

And that’s true either with relationships, with social justice, with economic outcomes, you have to pace yourself and appreciate the small changes, that ultimately will accumulate and turn into big change.

– Reverend, thank you, as always.

I learned from you.

We all do.

Thank you, Reverend Soaries.

– Thank you.

– [Narrator] One-On-One with Steve Adubato has been a production of the Caucus Educational Corporation.

Funding has been provided by Hackensack Meridian Health.

Wells Fargo.

New Jersey’s Clean Energy program.

Johnson & Johnson.

Community FoodBank of New Jersey.

The Fidelco Group.

Kean University.

The North Ward Center.

And by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Promotional support provided by and Local IQ.

And by

At the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, we are working now more than ever to fill the emptiness caused by hunger.

We are the state’s largest anti-hunger organization.

And together with our 800 plus community partners, we are committed to delivering food, help, and hope, to our hundreds and thousands of neighbors in need.


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