It’s a crazy and difficult spot to be in - leading your friends, relatives and countrymen while all the while trying to be loyal to your company and company ownership. I mean, how do you choose your loyalties in this situation?



It’s a crazy and difficult spot to be in - leading your friends, relatives and countrymen while all the while trying to be loyal to your company and company ownership. I mean, how do you choose your loyalties in this situation?

You love your friends, family and countrymen, and at the same time you really need your job and want to do what is best for the company. Latino supervisors and managers throughout the United States are pulled by this cultural and vocational tension on a daily basis.

I am convinced, based on extensive studies in this area, that leadership among Latinos is the No. 1 critical training area necessary among the Latino populace. Latinos for the most part have not been trained in professional leadership principles, much less in how to lead in the American organization. On top of this, to be frank, the leadership models in many Latin American countries are typically very poor, to say the least.

Think about it. If you have a company with Latino (Spanish-speaking) labor and Anglo (English-speaking) management, then the only people who truly control the stream of information in your organization are those bilingual supervisors and managers in the middle. This is a very critical role, and if you don’t have the right people with the right training in these positions your company will suffer for it.

To make the problem even more difficult than it already is, many if not most Latino supervisors and managers, especially in the construction industry, are in these positions primarily because they are bilingual, not because they have developed or have professional leadership skills.

So, the question is simple, “How do you detect and develop Latino leaders?” We’ll break this question in two parts. In this article, we’ll explore methods if spotting leadership candidates, and my next article will detail ways to develop the leadership skills of these employees.



Photo courtesy of CertainTeed.

How Do You Detect Latino Leaders?

You look for leadership qualities. Granted, leadership is leadership no matter where a person is from. However, there are some unique challenges to leadership in the Latino community that you must also consider as you are trying to detect candidates for your future leadership positions.

I’m going to give you a list of five “detection devices” that should be in place before you consider making a person a leader in your organization. Along with the key areas to consider, I’ll make you aware of any special considerations from a cultural standpoint.

1. Integrity. If a person does not have a high level of personal integrity and honesty, his loyalties will be so torn that his decisions will be affected. The most important issue in leadership is integrity, and it is an even more acute issue when you are dealing with a constant pull of loyalties as in the case with the Latino supervisors.

2. Communication skills. Leaders must communicate. Yes, here I am talking about both Spanish and English language skills, but much more than this applies here. Is the person a good listener? Does this person get angry easily and yell at the workers? Is this person able to communicate well with both English- and Spanish-speaking employees? Is this person patient?

I have seen some individuals in leadership positions who are really limited in their ability to lead both English and Spanish speakers. It is simply not wise to have someone in leadership who cannot lead the entire labor force because it forces you to restrict them to working with one group of people. Even if you try to force fit this scenario, the communication is weak. This is true whether we are talking about a Latino who doesn’t speak English well or an American supervisor who doesn’t speak Spanish well. The bottom line is this - you can’t lead if you can’t communicate, I don’t care who you are or where you are from!

Did you know that the main reason why Latino laborers leave a job is because they are talked down to or they are yelled at? If you have leaders who are harsh and domineering, they will not retain your workforce. You must find people who can express themselves but also have an even-keeled temperament. They must be in control of their emotions.

3. Organizational skills. OK, let’s just say it, Latin America is not a picture of neatly organized governments or businesses for the most part. This being said, it is important to have leaders who understand how to work well within structure and rules. American businesses, for the most part, are highly structured and highly regimented organizations.

Look for people who are very neat in both their personal appearance and also in their work habits. I would much prefer a leader who is a bit slower at doing a job but concerned about quality and organization. Promoting a sloppy worker to a leadership position is a big mistake, and you should avoid it. Make it a law for yourself and your company: Only promote people to leadership positions who are personally neat and always leave the jobsite neat and clean.

4. Level of education. Due to the fact that professional credentials often do not transfer from one country to another, it sometimes happens that a university professor is working in the labor force for an extended period of time and ownership has no idea as to his or her background. You may already have highly educated Latinos in your workforce and not know it. You should check out the backgrounds of your entire workforce to know what your resources truly are.

I have seen situations where you have a person with a low level of formal education working as a supervisor over a person with a high level of education simply because he speaks English and the other one doesn’t. Well, teach the highly educated person English and you will have a better long-term supervisor!

Another reason why you should try to have supervisors with a higher level of education (at least a high school diploma) is because it shows that this person has a desire to achieve, which is a very important characteristic for a leader. Also, these types of people tend to fit in better with higher management since they typically have better self-esteem and are more confident in themselves.

5. Ability to recruit. Leaders are good recruiters. They have influence. When they speak, people listen. You want - and need - to have Latino leaders who have a positive influence in the Latino community. If a person can only recruit from their friends and family, they are not, nor will they be, a good leader.

Good leaders understand the community in which they live. They understand the importance of having a workforce that is composed of people outside of their immediate sphere of influence. This is also very important because it will eliminate some of the loyalty tensions that arise due to supervising family and friends. We all know the dangers of doing business with family. Well, if you find a leader who can recruit outside of friends and family, you have found a diamond in the rough. Work with this person, hone this person and you will have a lifetime jewel.



Developing Leaders

First of all, in order to develop a leader, the person must have the characteristics of a leader - the characteristics outlined above. Leadership is a skill that can be taught, but the raw material must be in place first.

I think the biggest problem most companies have with the development of leaders is that they simply have the wrong people in these positions in the first place. But, for a moment, let’s just assume that you have the right people in place, but they just need training. What do you do?

My next article will discuss the key elements of a formal management training program. If you’d like a sneak preview, I’ll send you a free 15-minute video (in English), either on DVD by mail or over the Internet, to show you a leadership course called “Líderes Exitosos”(this means “Successful Leaders” in English). The course is taught in Spanish and, yes, I’ll be shameless here - I wrote it and I teach it. It contains six hours of great leadership training for your present and future Latino leaders. Just write me an e-mail message at the address below telling me if you want to receive it via regular mail on DVD or via the Internet. Put “Requesting Leadership Demo” in the subject line. If you want it by mail, send your address as well. Of course, you’ll get it faster over the Internet. Ah, the beauty of technology!

You must detect and develop your Latino leadership if you want a healthy company for the long haul. As the saying goes, “Everything rises and falls with leadership.” Make sure your company rises to the top.