After graduation, my peers bought new cars. But my focus was on repaying student loans. So I drove the car I had all through college — a 1979 Plymouth Volare handed down from my mom. I did, however, install an anti-theft alarm. My colleagues ribbed me because they couldn’t believe I outfitted the old car with an alarm system. But I paid off my loans first and got the last laugh.
George F. Cleveland has always been smart about making investments that provide the best return — whether that involves maintaining an old car or paying off debts in a timely fashion. He also carries that strategy over into his leadership style as Assistant Vice President of Mobility Customer Solution Centers at AT&T.
“I’ve found that investing time in people yields great returns,” says Cleveland, who says he learned some incredible leadership lessons from a college professor, Rev. Lee Norris, Sr. “If you have their hearts and their respect, there’s not much a team won’t be able to accomplish together. Strong, gentle leadership recognizes others for a job well done and gives public credit for team successes but takes personal ownership for team shortcomings.”
In his current role, Cleveland is responsible for Call Center Management of ATT&T’s Retention, Prepaid, Language, and Wireless Retail Support Centers – which include over 4,000 representatives.
Previously Cleveland helped create the flagship “Leading with Distinction” program at AT&T University. He knew that the coursework had to drive alignment from the top down, throughout all the diverse levels of AT&T management. So he invited representatives from all groups to the table, welcoming their insights and ideas. The net result yielded an enthusiastically welcomed best-in-class learning tool launched to more than 6,200 general managers. As Corey Anthony, Senior Vice President for Human Resources at AT&T and Cleveland’s nominator for the Eagle Award, explains, “George played a critical role in the design and delivery of our award-winning ‘Leading with Distinction’ leadership-development program.”
Cleveland also served on the HR Diversity Council, where he focused on promoting HR-team-member involvement in diversity programs and preparing high school students to excel in college and future careers through Job Shadowing programs.
“I consider myself fortunate to have been surrounded by great leaders with integrity and high moral standards,” says Cleveland. “Leading by example while demonstrating those standards is one of the key traits I’ve gleaned over the years, and I’ve found it to be contagious with the teams I’ve been fortunate to lead. As a mentor, I stress the importance of personal character, which engenders team trust and the solid relationships necessary to work across business units.”
Cleveland’s job does demand significant travel away from home, however, which is why he ensures that his family seizes every opportunity to spend quality time together. “Family, coupled with a strong sense of faith and purpose, are the things that keep me grounded,” he says.
That faith was tested when Cleveland was in his mid-20s, because his mother passed away from breast cancer. “As an only child, I was forced by this event to gain perspective on life and to live each day with purpose. It taught me that life is short and that it is important to build lasting relationships with those closest to me. I also learned to focus and move past distractions that can pull you away from your goals.”
Today Cleveland honors his mother’s memory by continuing to abide by those key principles, while he also shares them with everyone in his mentoring circle.
CareerFOCUS Magazine and the National Eagle Leadership Institute® salute 2012 Eagle Award winner George F. Cleveland