We recently connected with Asjah Monroe and have shared our conversation below.
Asjah, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. What did your parents do right and how has that impacted you in your life and career?
When I reflect, I can think of 3 really important things that my parents did right. The first is that they treated my learning and education as a personal project. One of my first memories of this is when I was 6, the summer after I’d just completed first grade. We went to the library and my father asked me to choose a book about an American historical figure who was Black. I chose Frederick Douglas. I can remember sitting at a desk pouring over that little book for what seemed like hours reading it and writing a book report that had to be handed in to my dad by his set deadline. It was so stressful. When I handed in that report though, I felt so good and so proud! My father continued this practice all the way through my high school years, throwing in the element of surprise–I never knew when he was going to approach me with a book and ask for a book report that had a non-negotiable deadline. This research and book reporting was important to my developing endurance, the ability to work under pressure, and to meet deadlines even when there are competing priorities.
Closely related to the first lesson from my parents is the second; they never forced any form of thought onto me. They would expose me to something, like religious practice for example, for a set period of time and then afterward would tell me that it was my choice whether or not I wanted to adopt it for myself. This helped me develop a sense of independence and critical thinking.
The final thing is that they emphasized the need to show a baseline level of honor and respect to others and they made this a requirement for me. My parents did not accept any show of disrespect toward them or toward others. Later I would apply this as the foundation from which I developed my management practice. I use it as I manage professional relationships whether I’m being required to manage up, manage parallel, and manage down.
Asjah, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I’m Asjah, Founder of Small House Inc., a nonprofit that helps youth and young adults leave homelessness by providing housing, life skills classes, and 1:1 coaching. I’ve always had a particular interest in working with community youth in supportive roles. After graduate school, my career ultimately narrowed its focus to working with individuals who were experiencing homelessness, and then even more specifically, to young adults who were experiencing homelessness.
Small House was born from the need to create youth-specific options so that young adults are more likely to leave homelessness without having any repeat incidences. What sets us apart is that we treat our relationship with the young adult and their personal development as the focal point. We’re confident that supporting and adequately preparing the young adult for independence is ultimately what’s going to solve the youth homelessness crisis. This centering of the young adult is what we’re most proud of.
Learning and unlearning are both critical parts of growth – can you share a story of a time when you had to unlearn a lesson?
I harbored a belief that it was my duty to defend and protect those who I was responsible for no matter what. This belief was slightly challenged when, at one point, I had someone who reported to me that was being unfairly criticized and targeted. I was ready and willing to act on their behalf, but instead, they spoke up and defended their position in the matter.
I discovered that when space is made for people and if people ultimately feel supported, respected, and/or safe under leadership, they will feel adequately brave enough to take a risk and defend themselves. I still maintain that I can and should leverage any positional influence I ever have to protect others wherever needed, but in addition to that, they also have the ability to defend and protect themselves. That was such an eye-opening experience for me and a lesson that has been like the gift that keeps on giving.
Are there any books, videos, essays or other resources that have significantly impacted your management and entrepreneurial thinking and philosophy?
The E-Myth by Micheal Gerber and Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do by Chris Guillebeau were two books that significantly impacted my entrepreneurial thinking and philosophy.