Be a Risk-Taker

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Image by 123RF.com

In my last post, I wrote about how the ability to take a risk is a key factor in growing personally and professionally. Not possessing the inborn inclination to step out of comfort zones could be a major barrier to that growth. Can people who aren’t natural gamblers learn how to undertake calculated chances? The short answer is, “yes.” I believe that anyone can learn how to take on new opportunities that are uncomfortable.

In my work coaching emerging Latina and Latino leaders, I’ve learned that the fear of losing a well-paid and comfortable position keeps many talented people from seeking leadership and executive roles. From my own experience and through many years of thinking about this issue, I believe that the way society views Latinos and our acceptance of that perspective are the leading causes of the reluctance to push the career advancement envelope.

I can’t say for sure what comes to mind when non-Latinos think about the Latino community. Given a lifetime of interactions with people from all walks of life, I can say that the perception isn’t very good, not to mention grossly inaccurate. Images of Latino drug dealers, gangsters, “illegal” immigrants, and welfare moochers flood the media.

The good news is that in recent years we’ve reversed the “lazy” myth as most Americans now believe that Latinos have a strong work ethic. The bad news is that belief applies only to those who toil in menial and back-breaking physical work. The white-collar Latino hasn’t even reached the American consciousness yet.

Despite a growing population and modest inroads in economic and political influence, generalized (and negative) Latino impressions still result in unjust misunderstandings. How do I know this? In more than two decades working at the highest levels of the corporate, local government, and education worlds, I’ve heard non-Latinos say the darnedest things about us. I don’t believe these off-the-cuff comments are made in malice or with racist intent. The comments are just plain ignorant.

Latino professionals subconsciously participate in the perpetuation of these images. We tend to play it safe once we’ve “made it.” When the discussion in the conference room gets heated, we shy away from engaging in the ruckus. Our working-class upbringing teaches us to work hard, and keep our heads down and mouths shut. Let’s be honest, white folks in power positions can be intimidating. We’re worried that we might say something wrong, or worse, something stupid. We’ve all been there.

There’s some justification for that reluctance to speak out. This reality was played out last week on the national stage when Senator Kamala Harris (a black woman who served as a prosecutor and California’s attorney general before election to the senate) was rudely reprimanded by Senators John McCain and Richard Burr for “harassing” Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a senate hearing. No other senator on that panel was subjected to that kind of intrusion. Senator Harris, a seasoned interrogator, continued her questioning without missing a beat.

Society has a way of making people of color, even those in leadership positions, appear a cut below their colleagues. That could lead to self-doubt. How can we respond like Senator Harris? The solution is for you to just believe in yourself. Sounds easy, huh? Confronting the fear of taking risks and fighting negative stereotypes can be discouraging and tiring. But you have to step out of your comfort zone to advance.

I don’t mean the “fake it ‘til you make it” philosophy that seems to be all the rage today. That doesn’t work. You should never fake it! By definition, that means that you’re not qualified. I’m talking about taking stock of your successes and confirming that you’re the real deal.

I’m currently working with a Latina executive who’s contemplating a career change. She has extensive experience in her field and has progressively advanced to higher leadership roles in the organization. Her teams have earned several industry awards in addition to the individual recognition mementos that gather on her desk.

She has three options in front of her: (1) make a lateral move into management at her organization’s headquarters, (2) seek advancement opportunities within the industry, or (3) stay in her current role. I’ve advised her to take a serious look at options #2 and #1, in that order. Both are risky. Her initial response was to question her own qualifications and preparedness.

We did a simple exercise to get that absurd notion out of her mind. She dusted off her resume and started listing her professional accomplishments and accolades. When the dust settled, she had an amazing resume that impressed even herself! She had been so busy being successful that she didn’t realize the extent of her experience and preparation.

Once it was on paper, I could see in her eyes that she truly believed in herself. She’s still nervous about the possibility of taking a leap. The natural sense of anxiety that comes with stretching one’s boundaries will still linger as she thinks about her next move. At least she now believes that she has what it takes to achieve her goals.

The moral of this story is to block out influences that are barriers to your success, obstacles like fear of taking professional risks and the negative effect society has on our tendency toward self-doubt. These are powerful forces in keeping talented Latinas and Latinos from striving to occupy the corner office.

As a Latino professional, you’ve educated yourself and work hard. Learn how to take regular stock of your accomplishments to remind yourself that you have professional value and worth. This will give you the confidence needed to take that risk that will lead to the next level in your personal and professional life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INVEST IN YOURSELF

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Image by eliteinterp.com

Taking a scroll through social media could lead you to believe that Latinos are thriving in Silicon Valley. This is partly true. Although a vast majority of Latinos continue to struggle economically in the one of the country’s most expensive places to live, there’s a burgeoning Latino middle class driven by higher college enrollment and graduation rates. As a community, we still have a long way to go. Fortunately, we’re headed in the right direction.

Those of us who have taken advantage of education and career opportunities invest in comfortable living spaces, luxury cars, and exotic vacation destinations. Who can blame us? Growing up on the east side, I never imagined that one day I would be able to relax on the shores of Maui or sip a rum and coke in old San Juan. When I was promoted to a VP position, I literally ran out and bought my dream car.

We deserve these opportunities as fruits of our labors, right? Damn right…with one caveat. These are short-term investments that may or may not yield more opportunities for the future. I’m not just talking about financial investments. I’m talking about you investing in yourself. Investing time into your personal and professional development is just as important as maxing out on your 401K plan (I hope you’re doing this).

Here’s why: Smart, talented, and compassionate Latinos like you need to seek out leadership roles in business, education, politics, and community service. These four sectors form the core of any successful community. State demographers project that more than one out of every two Californians will be Latino by 2030 (that’s only 13 years from now, folks). Economists say that the 24-55 age group needs to be successful for a community to be economically stable.

Today, California is the 5th largest economy in the world. I’m not that great at math, but I can see the numbers clearly on this one. California needs Latinas and Latinos to fill business, education, political, and community leadership roles for the state to maintain its role as a global economic powerhouse.

The statistics today in all four sectors are abysmal. For example, Latinos represent just 9% of public school administrators in California, and that’s the highest rate of the four sectors. The tech industry doesn’t even release those numbers. Recently, Google shared with Congress that Latinos make up 3% of its entire workforce. One can only imagine what the executive suite and management offices look like.

This data brings me back to Latinas and Latinos making investments in personal and professional growth. I’m not suggesting that you stop treating yourself to fancy (my mom’s word) things, cars, and vacations. I encourage you to balance those investments with a solid retirement plan, personal growth opportunities, and community service. Investing your time and treasure in yourself will pay financial, self-fulfillment, and public benefit dividends many times over.

Beside earning a college degree, the two most valuable investments I made in my personal and professional growth was participating in the American Leadership Forum of Silicon Valley and the Comcast Executive Leadership Forum. Combined, these programs came at a busy time in my life. My family and career were growing. I participated in both programs my own time and partly on my dime. Fortunately, Comcast financially sponsored my participation in these high-profile leadership development organizations.

For two years, I invested time in what equated to having an additional part-time job, without pay. Raised in a working-class Latino family, doing work without getting paid wasn’t looked upon too favorably. Once I overcame that cultural barrier, I embarked on a set of experiences that was priceless. I learned from and worked alongside some of the country’s top executives and academics. The skills culled from the forums laid the foundation for my future leadership endeavors.

It’s time that you too invest in yourself personally and professionally. It will make all the difference in the world when you walk into a conference room with confidence or knock on your boss’s door to explain why you deserve that coveted promotion. Self-investment comes in many forms: leadership programs, additional education, a personal coach, spending quality time with a trusted mentor. The best results come from taking advantage of all of the above.

Self-investment is a concept that we Latinos are still trying to understand. We’re taught to take care of everyone else first, but we need to understand that taking care of ourselves will make us better caretakers. Don’t fall into the trap of, “I don’t have time” and “I don’t have enough money.”

There will be an abundance of executive, administrative, and public service positions available to smart, talented, and ambitious Latinas and Latinos over the next two decades and into the foreseeable future. You’ll need the personal and professional skills required to step into a leadership role when opportunity comes knocking.  Balance how you use your money and time. Invest in yourself. You’ll be happy that you did.

 

 

 

Leadership Series: Crashing Through the Silicon Ceiling

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Image by dailymail.co.uk

Last summer, the Washington Post printed an article to confirm what Latinos in Silicon Valley already knew to be true – Latinos and other people of color are grossly underrepresented in the valley’s workforce, especially in management. The numbers are abysmal.

Intel leads the pack of tech giants where only 8% of its employees are Latino. That’s double the percentage of other major high-tech firms. Twitter is in the basement with only 2% of its workforce identifying as Latino. These statistics include all employees: tech, non-tech, management, etc. Latino managers, directors, and executives represent just a fraction of those employees.

The Post article goes on to describe how management points to the lack of qualified Latino candidates and an education system that isn’t providing a pipeline of talented people of color. This is a common response for organizations and institutions that claim that the problem exists with the talent pool, not hiring practices. Although still woefully inadequate, the rate of Latino college graduates is twice the percentage of employees in Silicon Valley.

So what gives?

According to the Washington Post, Valley executives are beginning to listen to the notion that there are “unconscious biases that have given preference to white men.” This is a great start. Along with those revelations, HR teams are well aware of the challenges to change the mindset of large institutions. As Latino college admission and graduation rates rise over time, there may be someday in the future when this isn’t an issue. It could be decades before the bias demons are exorcised

Unfortunately, today, it’s a major problem and current Latino professionals can’t afford to wait for society to catch up with the reality that there is a large pool of candidates already in the pipeline. The National Society of Hispanic MBAs alone has over 30,000 members in 40 chapters across the country, including Silicon Valley.

The good news is that Silicon Valley seems to be responding to the Washington Post article. Over the past year, companies like Facebook and LinkedIn have hosted events targeted at Latino professionals. The bad news is twofold. First, HR professionals have already said that tackling bias will take a long time. Second, these companies don’t know how to attract Latino talent. I’ll leave that issue for another blog post.

In the meantime, what are smart, talented, and ambitious Latino professionals to do?  Here are few tips that will get you started on your leadership journey:

  1. Work Hard

I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Getting ahead takes an enormous amount of effort, commitment, and perseverance. There’s no other way around it. All of the successful people I’ve ever encountered were passionate and dedicated to their craft. This can take a million hours a week or far less, it just depends how you manage your time. Just make sure to give it your all. A college education gets you to the front door. Hard work gets you to the corner office.

As I made my way up the corporate org chart, I was the first to raise my hand when upper management was looking for someone to take on an extra project. When the corporate office executives needed support for an initiative, I packed my bags and traveled throughout the country to lend a helping hand. Soon, I was on the radar for promotion from manager to director to vice president.

This strategy seems to fly in the face of corporate America’s newfound philosophy on work/home balance. Let me just say this: the hardest working employees get first crack at promotion. There are ways to balance family life and an ambitious career. My wife Sandra worked her way up the education administrator ranks while I moved toward the executive suite. Yet, we always made time for our family (I’ll leave that for another blog post too).

  1. Find a Mentor

Learning to master a craft from a successful person is the best education you’ll ever get. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice once said that aspiring leaders should, “search for role models you can look up to and people who take an interest in your career.” In my career, the best mentors have been people who truly cared about my future. I’ve been blessed to have five men in my professional life that fulfilled that role.

Bob Williams, Percy Carr, Navarra Williams, Dave Walton, and Johnnie Giles have made an indelible imprint on my career. Bob, the manager at my first part-time job, was a master at team-building. Coach Carr is a hall-of-fame college basketball coach. I worked as his assistant in the late 80s and early 90s. He taught me the value of preparation and developing talent. Navarra, Dave, and Johnnie helped me understand the intense, yet delicate world of corporate politics.

The most valuable asset each of these men brought to me was a sincere interest in my growth and development as a leader. There are people like this in everyone’s life. You need to identify them and seek their guidance. One more piece of advice from Secretary Rice, “you don’t have to have mentors who look like you.” Just make sure that they genuinely care about your potential as a leader.

  1. Keep Learning

According to Pulitzer Prize historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, this concept is one of the ten qualities that made President Abraham Lincoln a great leader. Lincoln spent countless hours with generals in the White House and on the front lines of battle to better understand the science of warfare and the causes and effects of his decisions. He’s perhaps our nation’s greatest wartime president.

Make your personal development a priority. As a student of Goodwin’s theory, I’ve never hesitated at an opportunity to take advantage of leadership development. Among the many programs available to me, I studied community leadership as a senior fellow with the American Leadership Forum of Silicon Valley and corporate leadership with the Comcast Executive Leadership Forum. Today, I continue to learn from the talented people I encounter in my role as a leadership coach.

The most exciting thing about the Latino future is that it’s happening right now. There are many talented professionals in the pipeline today. While it appears that institutions are warming up to the facts about Latino talent, we need to take matters into our own hands until they catch up. Start your leadership journey by taking positive steps toward crashing through the Silicon ceiling!

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Are you ready to make your next career move?

REGISTER TODAY for the July 16th  ESEReport.com Leadership Series “Foundations of Leadership Workshop.” Please contact Eddie directly with any questions at eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net. This will be an inspiring day of learning!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/foundations-of-leadership-workshop-tickets-24943731372

To read the full Washington Post article, click here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/silicon-valley-struggles-to-hack-its-diversity-problem/2015/07/16/0b0144be-2053-11e5-84d5-eb37ee8eaa61_story.html

Leadership Series: Just Believe!

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Image by performersheart.com

Last month at Modesto Junior College, I addressed over 100 Latina college administrators, educators, and students as the opening keynote speaker for the 29th Annual Latina Leadership Network of the California Community Colleges. As I prepared for the speech, butterflies fluttered in my stomach.  I always get nervous before stepping out of my comfort zone. I had never spoken to a group made up exclusively of women.

In the days leading up to the conference, my usual “pre-game” nerves evolved into outright self-doubt. All kinds of questions swirled in my mind, slowing down my preparation process. What did I have to offer to smart and ambitious women? Why did the organizers invite me to open this prestigious event? Was I even qualified to speak at an academic gathering?

Does this sound familiar?

It’s natural for anyone to be a little anxious prior to making a big presentation at work or preparing for something new. Adrenalin generated by those feelings usually helps people focus on getting the job done. We Latinos have an additional burden layered on top of the normal sensation of excitement. The crippling effect of self-doubt leads to questioning our worth, which ultimately can keep us from taking chances.

Why does this happen? The answer is surely complex. Part of it might be our own cultural aversion to taking professional risks. George Lopez describes this phenomenon in his hilarious “Team Leader” bit. Society also has a way of making Latinos, even those in leadership positions, appear a cut below non-Latino colleagues.

The good news is that this sense of inadequacy can be overcome. The solution is for you to just believe in yourself. Sounds easy, huh? Unfortunately, confronting the fear of taking risks and fighting negative stereotypes can be discouraging and tiring. Thus, implementation of the remedy can be challenging due to these hurdles.

I don’t mean the “fake it ‘til you make it” philosophy that seems to be all the rage today. That doesn’t work. You should never fake it! By definition, that means that you’re not qualified for the position you seek. I’m talking about taking stock of your successes and confirming that you’re the real (not fake) deal.

I’m currently working with a Latina mid-level executive who’s contemplating a career change. She has extensive experience in her field and has progressively advanced to higher leadership roles in the organization. Her teams have earned several industry awards in addition to the individual recognition mementos that gather on her desk.

She has three options in front of her: (1) make a lateral move into management at her organization’s headquarters, (2) seek advancement opportunities within the industry, or (3) stay in her current role. I’ve advised her to take a serious look at options #2 and #1, in that order. Her initial response was to question her own qualifications and preparedness.

Seriously…

We did a simple exercise to get that absurd notion out of her mind. She dusted off her resume (which was a decade old) and started listing her professional accomplishments and accolades. When the dust settled, she had an amazing resume that impressed even herself! She had been so busy being successful that she didn’t realize the extent of her experience and preparation.

Once it was on paper, I could see in her eyes that she truly believed in herself. She’s still nervous about the possibility of taking a leap. The natural sense of anxiety that comes with stretching one’s boundaries will still linger as she thinks about her next move. At least she now believes that she has what it takes to achieve her goals.

The moral of this story is to block out influences that are barriers to your success, obstacles like fear of taking professional risks and the negative effect society has on our tendency toward self-doubt. These are powerful forces in keeping Latinas and Latinos from striving to occupy the corner office.

As Latino professionals, we’ve educated ourselves and work hard. We need to learn how to take stock of accomplishments to remind ourselves that we have professional value and worth. This will give us the confidence needed to make the next career move.

Back at Modesto Junior College, as the conference chair introduced me, I reflected on three decades of leadership experience. I had once spoken to over 1,500 politicians at the National Association of Latino Elected Officials in Dallas, Texas, and addressed thousands of people at San Jose State University Chicano Commencement and high school graduation ceremonies.

Stepping up to the podium, I started out by talking about how proud I was of my wife Sandra, an outstanding elementary school principal, and my two daughters in college. Since they’re strong women, I assured the audience, I was totally comfortable in a room of talented and successful Latinas. When the room erupted in applause, I settled down. It was an inspiring evening for me.

Following my own advice, I overcame the self-doubt that had consumed me earlier in the week. Once I took stock of my career, I was able to believe in myself again. You can do this too.

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Are you thinking about the next move in your career? You should attend my workshop this summer:

ESEReport.com Leadership Series presents

Foundations of Leadership Workshop

Saturday, July 16, 2016

By sharing engaging stories and colorful anecdotes from 30 years of leadership experience in business, politics, education, and community service, my fast-paced and interactive workshop will help you achieve your professional goals!

 Workshop participants will learn how to:

  • Become a Leader, Not Just a Manager
  • Harness the Power of Productive Relationships
  • Communicate for Success

Click here for tickets and more information: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/foundations-of-leadership-workshop-tickets-24943731372

Leadership Series: Relationships, Relationships, Relationships!

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Image by marismith.com

“It’s all politics anyway.”

We’ve all heard this phrase. People say it when they don’t get that dream job or big promotion. Leadership is as much about crushing setbacks as it is soaring successes. I know a whole bunch about stumbling blocks. I’ve lost four campaigns for public office, a prestigious executive position, and nearly lost my life.

On the other hand, I’ve coached a high school varsity basketball team, served in public office for four years, traveled across the country as a vice president for a major corporation, and founded a professional leadership academy in collaboration with Stanford University’s Center for the Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.

Through it all, I learned what it takes to achieve career goals. In this series, I share my experiences and my secrets to climbing the ladder of leadership. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is the value of developing and nurturing meaningful professional relationships.

“It’s all politics anyway.” Right?

You’re damn right!

Well, sort of…

Getting a leadership role requires great work product, strategic thinking, perseverance, and an ample supply of people skills (aka political know-how and savvy). Keep in mind that I use the word “politics” with a lowercase “p” to distinguish it from the cutthroat Elective Politics we see on the 24-hour cable news networks. What I’m talking about is the cutthroat politics we see in schools, the workplace, and just about every place people interact.

Politics isn’t a dirty word. Understanding that it’s a fact of life when working with people and learning how to manage that process are the best kept secrets for leadership development and advancement. It’s about relationships, relationships, relationships!

Too many talented Latinos and Latinas tell me that good work alone should speak for itself, so they don’t understand the need to learn how to navigate the tricky waters of organizational politics to land a leadership role. Getting ahead is all politics anyway, they assure me.

If you agree with that statement, stop reading now! This series isn’t for you.

Moving up the  organizational food chain is about good work and politics. One doesn’t work without the other. In his book, Hardball: How Politics Is Played Told By One Who Knows The Game, political commentator Chris Matthews advises that “it’s not who you, it’s who you get to know.” It’s great advice. Do yourself a favor and buy the book.

What does Matthews mean by his provocative statement? Essentially, you have to build relationships with the right people. In today’s social media “friend” acquisition frenzy, many aspiring leaders judge their value by the amount of “friends” and “Likes” they can accumulate. That kind of online shotgun approach to professional relationship-building doesn’t work.

Developing and nurturing meaningful professional relationships is hard personal face-to-face work. Here are three steps to help you get started:

  1. Determine who in your organization (or the community) is actually influential.

I call these folks the decision-makers. They manage the resources that everyone else is trying to get their hands on. Many of these types of leader have a title and authority to move resources around. Some don’t. The trick is figuring out who is who. This is a challenging endeavor.

There are many people running around looking and sounding like decision-makers. Beware of them. Most aren’t. One of my favorite quotes comes from Frank Underwood, a fictional character in the Netflix series, House of Cards. Underwood warns that, “proximity to power deludes some into thinking they wield it.”

So how can you identify the real deal? It’s usually not the people who have to tell others that they are leaders and have influence. True leaders are too busy managing and allocating resources to tout their value. When attending an event or meeting, the decision-makers are the ones others are lining up to see and take photos with. They’re not the people asking for a minute to chat or take a photo.

You should make time to study subtle actions and dynamics in a room. When going to a reception, leave the wine at the bar and use your time wisely to survey the situation to determine who is “wielding the power.” At a meeting, spend time studying who the boss is listening to, not the other way around. In short order, you’ll begin to figure out who is who.

  1. Strategically begin getting to know the decision-makers and the people close to them.

Building meaningful relationships is strategic. Once you’ve figured out who has the influence and authority to impact your leadership journey, introduce yourself (no photo requests, please). Be prepared to deliver your elevator pitch. Have a quick and friendly chat and move on.

Identify who the decision-maker listens to and begin the relationship development there. There usually is more than one person that fits this job description, so work in concentric circles starting with the most accessible person in the circle. Be genuine, sincere, and confident as you develop these professional friendships. Once trust is built, you’ll be invited into the next level of the concentric circle and a step closer to a leadership role.

  1. Follow through!

Make sure you follow up with decision-makers and those close to them right away. It could be via text message or e-mail. The best method is writing a personal hand-written note. Buy a stack of custom-made cards for this purpose. Your message should be brief and simple with an invitation to touch base over coffee or lunch, whichever is most appropriate.

When you get the chance to work with decision-makers, be honest about your talents and abilities. Don’t make a commitment you can’t meet. Credibility and follow-through are critical to demonstrating your potential for advancement. Say what you do and do what you say…and always follow though!

Work hard, be genuine, and get out of the office to meet people, the right people. It’s not ALL politics, but it’s difficult for decision-makers to notice you if they don’t know you and your work, despite a great work product. So politics is important. Be strategic. Remember, it’s not who you know, it’s who you get to know. Or, as a veteran executive once told me, “it’s who gets to know YOU.”