During this year's Hispanic Heritage month, I set out to find answers to questions that have been buzzing in my head for a quite a while: What is the state of Latino leadership in the U.S.? What needs to happen for Latinos to become effective leaders in the 21st century?
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During this year's Hispanic Heritage month, I set out to find answers to questions that have been buzzing in my head for a quite a while: What is the state of Latino leadership in the U.S.? What needs to happen for Latinos to become effective leaders in the 21st century?

I was eager to know. So in lieu of a long investigation, I decided to ask four Latinos who are committed to the development of Latino leaders across the country.

Phyllis Barajas, Founder and Executive Director of Conexión, a cross-cultural mentoring and leadership development program for mid-career Latinos.

Juana Bordas, President of Mestiza Leadership International, a leadership development organization. She is the author of Salsa, Soul and Spirit and The Power of Latino Leadership.

Darío Collado, Program Manager of the Latino Leadership Initiative (LLI) at Harvard's Center for Public Leadership, a program to groom rising Latino college seniors.

Dr. Robert Rodriguez, President of DRR Advisors, a management consulting firm that specializes in Latino talent management initiatives. He is also the author of Latino Talent.

State of Latino Leadership

Latinos are lagging behind in terms of representation and leadership in most senior positions whether it is government, education, business and every major area of society. For instance, Latinos account for 144 of 5,516 board seats on Fortune 500 companies according to a recent report from the Hispanic Alliance for Corporate Responsibility.
There are several contributing factors to this lag but two concern me in particular. One is the fact that the pipeline to upward mobility for Latinos is faulty. It is not only about being educated. It is also about the type of jobs performed and networks that Latinos become part of in the workplace. A second factor is that Latino cultural scripts conflict with mainstream U.S. cultural values. Take for instance the cultural script of colectivismo (collectivism) as described by Dr. Evangelina Holvino: "emphasizes the needs of the group and community before those of the individual, whereas the Anglo-Saxon cultural scripts emphasize the needs and capabilities of the individual first."


Many people believe the rising Latino influence is a recent phenomenon fueled by exploding demographics or rising political influence. Most Latinos, however, understand our advancement has taken centuries and is due to the commitment and relentless activism of our leaders. They have built a legacy of inclusive community leadership based on cultural values that has as its purpose to uplift people.
Latino leadership is a collaborative, collective, and inclusive leadership model. Leaders build coalitions that increase the potential for collective action. Most Latino organizations use this approach. For example, The National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest Latino Civil Rights and Advocacy organization in the country, represents a coalition of over 300 community-based organizations.


The state of Latino leadership in the United States has been up for debate for some time. It is true that more Latinos are rising to leadership positions but a sense of Latino leadership or influence at the national level has not yet been realized.
The diversity of the Latino community not only in terms of cultures and countries of origin, but also with regards to socio-economic status and levels of education contributes to this challenge. It is going to be very interesting to see exactly how the access to power through leadership positions will transform and influence the power structure in mainstream environment that is still to be realized.


Latino leadership is trending upwards in the United States. It's an encouraging sign given the economic and cultural contributions we make in the U.S. A new generation of Latino leaders are also being groomed which accelerates this trend.
Latinos are embracing their ethnicity with more confidence then ever before. As more Latinos view their heritage as an asset, their leadership potential grows. Corporate Latino leadership development programs are also flourishing further accelerating the growth of Latino leaders.

Factors to Effective Leadership

Two things. One is to be willing to take the risks of going where no Latino has gone before and get outside your comfort zone. Calculated risks include doing your homework, research the elements of the project, role, etc. Build a network of individuals that become your trusted advisors and sounding board. Two: Corporations must be intentional about developing the pipeline of talent. Ask how do we do it now and what it would take to advance the new demographic coming into the workplace. How do we go about building an organizational culture that encourages participation and risk taking in a diverse environment?


Strategic thinking and the ability to analyze and synthesize information are key leadership functions that require objectivity. These actions often necessitate a mental separation from a problem or group. This can sometimes be difficult for Latinos because the culture is much more feeling and process oriented. Closer relationships, the tendency to be cooperative, and not hurt people's feeling can make separating oneself and being objective more challenging.


Latinos could really benefit from having more programs and mentors involved in shaping the next generation of leaders. Many students are the first in their family to attend college, as I was, and as a result, could be missing out on opportunities to further their education for lack of knowledge or guidance. They self-select themselves out of places like Harvard because they don't think that they will be accepted. For example, we have had 153 LLI alums in the past four years and 3 have applied and were all accepted in Harvard graduate schools. All three wouldn't have applied had it not been for their LLI experience.


Latinos need to become more comfortable with their relationship with organizational power. They must learn to acquire power within their companies and once they have it, they must not be afraid to wield the power they have earned.

Given their responses, I am cautiously optimistic. How about you?

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