Principal, Booz Allen Hamilton
What do you consider your greatest strength, and how do you think it benefits your business?
I listen. It’s a surprisingly tough skill for some leaders, but an important one if you want to fully, authentically connect with people and understand what motivates and drives them. It is difficult to inspire change or growth or new ideas if you miss that critical link with others. Some would say leveraging patience and listening takes time and impedes a quick decision. My view is the opposite: Observation and depth of relationships create trusting, honest environments where people tell you the truth, rather than just what you want to hear. The result is a decisive, empathetic leader, which is what I strive to be every day.
What do you think is the greatest issue or dilemma facing the African American community today?
Never before have we had so many positive examples of successful and influential African Americans contributing across all sectors of society. Yet, with the 24-hour news cycle and social environment, African Americans still deal with destructive stereotypes that feed hate and division. In-depth media reporting on real issues is a long-gone tradition. The sound bite helps us save time, but can be dangerous to the ill-informed. The Economist doesn’t get air time, and all of us have to seek out perspective, exposure, and engagement in local grassroots efforts. When horrible things happen, we all rally and talk about the need for dialogue. Yet dialogue without action at the grassroots and political levels enables Facebook, Twitter, and prime-time ratings to manage the message. It’s important in our mentorship of the newer generation to teach. Get a subscription to the Wall Street Journal or a local newspaper. Understand and use the political process at the local level. Formulate a personal opinion based on facts and experiences. And strive for leadership positions to manage the right messages with a more balanced view of the community.
What advice would you give to someone just beginning his or her career?
Performance alone does not always result in glory! There are many intelligent, high-performing, and talented employees, especially in a firm like ours. The key is building relationships and developing political savvy that will enable you to maneuver effectively in any organization. When I meet with staff who have career plans with their T’s crossed and I’s dotted, I applaud the plan and the thinking that helped them develop it. But I recommend that they leave room in the plan to be open to unexpected, new opportunities that don’t always map exactly to their ideas. Happenstance can be a powerful success factor if you can acknowledge it when the time comes.