At the Together LA conference held in 2015, one of the featured speakers, Compton’s mayor Aja Brown, spoke into the broad streams of a Los Angeles thirsty for solutions to societal ills as a relative newcomer in both the political and spiritual realms of the leadership community.
At the time, she was just beginning to hone her political chops as a believer in Jesus serving inside Compton’s governing council and board. We caught up with Aja via a recent email blast and post from Catalyst, the dynamic Christian mega conference movement that also featured Brown as a speaker.
There’s two videos of Brown being interviewed at the conference that we recommend watching. One is embeded below and the other is linked in the transcript below from Catalyst.
How Compton Changed
A few years ago we had the honor of sitting down with Mayor Aja Brown to hear how God has used her leadership in tremendous ways to transform the city of Compton. When asked about her driving leadership principles, she walked attendees through her 3-step process of creating lasting change:
As ambitious problem solvers we can be quick to provide a solution, but slow to listen and relate.
Here’s the transcript to Aja’s interview:
Mike Foster: A bunch of leaders in the room right now. You’re, obviously, an incredible leader, leading change like nobody’s business. As a leader, what’s a principle, or what are some of the values that you operate from in terms of, okay, I’m going to go sit down with gang members, and I want to try to get them on my page. I want to try to create this change in this city. What are the, sort of the driving principles, leadership principles, that maybe we could adopt in our own leadership that would help us in our situations?
Aja Brown: I think that the first step to addressing a challenging situation or a group is to listen. People want to be heard, and frustration comes when they feel like they can’t communicate what their issues are, so I just listen first. And then, the next step is to relate. I make sure that I can find a way in one small way in my experience, or life, or something that I’ve seen, or a story that I can relate, and verify what it is that they’re feeling to validate them.
And then, it’s about solutions. I’m all about solutions. Anyone can identify a problem. This is my mantra. Anybody can pick out a problem, but only real leaders and influencers can identify the solutions. So, when people come to me, as pastors, as leaders, as ministers, everyone is an expert at what you do. I always challenge people, instead of telling me what to do, why don’t you do exactly what it is that you can do, and then we can meet in the middle.
I think it’s critical that we stand firm in the position that we have, but don’t let the position drive how you relate and how you lead, because there are two types of leaders. There’s the positional leader, and then there’s the effective influencer. I’d rather spend time grooming other leaders and empowering other people and letting people make mistakes and learning than me trying to have my hand in everything.
There’s a law of the lid, and if you are stuck at this level, everyone under you, they’re stuck at that level. So, as much as you can empower other people to be able to strengthen and to expand your reach, then you have an opportunity to be able to grow to a different level and to do more things. That’s really critical that we take our hands off, and to trust, and to allow mistakes to happen because they’re learning opportunities, and to be really focused on the finish line. I’m all about the finish line. I don’t care how we get there as long as we get there.
Mike Foster: I hope you were taking notes on that because that is gold right there. Thank you. That’s incredible. I think the sense of just you influencing people with your vision and having people operate in their gifts is so incredibly important, because you can’t do it all by yourself. One of the things I do love about your story, too, is that you started serving and working in these issues in your church, and then went to politics and became the mayor. But really, the things that you see for the city, things that you see for the community, started with your passion for the church, and you’re still, obviously, actively involved in the church. Tell us about kind of how your calling, the office might change, or the context might change, but your calling has not.
Aja Brown: It’s always the same, absolutely. We’re prepackaged. God has given us the gifts and the talents, and so our different stations in life really give us an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to be able to exercise those gifts so that we can go to the next level. I’ve always had a heart to serve, even as a child, and as I chose my career, I switched from engineering and went over to urban planning and development because of my love and heart for the community. My job was to transform the built environment, and my personal life was focused on transforming people, spiritual lives.
The church is such an awesome training ground, and it’s really a microcosm for the greater city because there’s politics in everything, and there is opposition in everything. There are different groups of people that you need to mobilize who do different things. There’s the one mission of the church, and so there’s such a huge opportunity for people in the church to be able to grow and develop, but always to be mission-minded, that we’re here to be able to change and go ye therefore, and it’s not about being inside these four walls, but it’s about affecting the community around us.
If that’s always a mission, is how do we impact the community around us, how do we love on the city, how do we create change, then we can actually get the gifts that we need to be able to do the things that God is going to send us. I think of the church as the training ground, but we’re supposed to be able to go out as well. We all should have a ministry that we do outside of the church as well, so the ascension to mayor … I’m the same person. I do the same things. I have less time to do them, but the structure of my life and what I do is exactly the same, so it was just a natural step.
I was frustrated where I was because I knew that God had put so much in me and I saw what needed to be done. I had tried to get other people to run for mayor because I just wanted to work behind the scenes as a servant. The fingers pointed back at me and I said, “How can I not do this?” So, the next natural step for me was mayor. It wasn’t a councilperson because God had given me the vision for the city, so it was just the next step.
I think that’s so important that it’s natural for people to think, “I want to focus on the next position that I have,” but we can’t focus on the position, it’s really about being the most effective at whatever platform you are, and when you’ve done all you can do, then God will move you up so that you can do more. And he won’t give you more than you can handle, so it’s critical that we exhaust everything at that level, and the elevation comes natural.