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Houston expert weighs in on how to identify the right transformational leader

Hiring an executive at a pivotal time — specifically amid The Great Resignation — can be overwhelming. This Houstonian has tips from her decades in the business. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

In my 20 years of working in executive search, I’m not sure there has ever been a tougher time to be a leader, whether that’s running a big company or being in charge of a small team. I don’t have to tell you that chronic stressors are impacting employee engagement and wellbeing, and have been for a few years.

Transformational Leadership is not just about leading high-growth companies; it’s about leading through change, and driving change when it’s needed. Right now, the Transformational Leadership that’s needed is directly tied to the pandemic, returning to work, and now “The Great Resignation and Reckoning.” Transformational Leaders must foster a culture where workers WANT to be loyal and want to help the company succeed.

How do you identify leaders who will create the conditions for which employees are rightfully asking, and who will encourage resilience, both personally and professionally?

Here are some of the attributes Sudduth Search seeks when hiring Transformational Leaders:

Collaboration in the conversation. Even in an interview, if the person is not listening as much as they are talking, or is even talking over the interviewer, it’s a red flag. Possessing enough social awareness to know when it’s time to talk is critical for effective leaders.

Leaders who display openness and humility. Leaders who convey that they are “all knowing” no matter how obvious it is that no one has all the answers is a risky hire. Be on the lookout for candidates who admit when they don’t know things and talk about how they solved the situation regardless.

Courageous leaders who prioritize ethics and principles. Good leaders are trusted and respected for the decisions they make when they prioritize ethics. Ask them about difficult situations they’ve been in, and how they prioritized their beliefs.

Transformational Leaders are healthy and happy. I’m not going to tell you that every leader is healthy and happy 100% of the time, but strong leaders have high emotional intelligence and self-awareness, and an ability to step outside of themselves and self-regulate.

Intellectual bravery. Transformational Leaders disagree or challenge the status quo in a proactive way. They might challenge something that has been said in a setting where everyone just accepts the statement as a given or they might state something that isn’t popular. Transformational Leaders spur this kind of communication, they encourage employees to think outside of the box, and they dare to be wrong. Bureaucracy hinders creativity. Transformational Leaders set the tone and decide the norms.

They encourage difficult, but important conversations. Transformational Leaders encourage people to think beyond their roles, and think about the company as a whole. These kinds of leaders include employees in important conversations, they admit when they don’t know something, and they are not afraid to ask for feedback.

Authenticity. As mental health experts warned it would, the pandemic is triggering a loneliness epidemic. But even though most everyone is online, working more than they are maintaining active social lives, they feel equally isolated in their professional lives. Employees miss the camaraderie of the office. Celebrations, light hearted get togethers, spontaneous lunches with the whole team. What’s more, they miss feeling connected and having colleagues know where they’re at. Transformational Leaders haven’t been shy to implement alternatives, and they won’t forget to bring back team outings and office lore when it’s safe to do so.

Perhaps the most important factor to consider when hiring leaders is cultural fit, which means you can work with them, you feel comfortable communicating with them, and you are aligned on ethics and values. Dig into any question marks or topic where you might be misaligned.

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Jen Sudduth is the founder and managing partner of Houston-based executive hiring firm Sudduth Search LLC.

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Building Houston

 
 

What's an employee group and why do you need to know about it during Hispanic Heritage Month? This Houston expert explains. Photo via Getty Images

Making a name for yourself in corporate America is no easy task. It is especially hard if you are the first generation in your family to attend college in this country and the first to take a stab at climbing the corporate ladder. The secret behind those who successfully make it to the top is access to a strong support group.

Finding the right support system, one that provides professional and personal mentorship and one that you identify with culturally, can help you navigate the business world and help you achieve your career goals.

Many Hispanic/Latino professionals have found that support system in employee groups, or EGs.

What are EGs and how can they help Hispanic professionals succeed?

EGs are employee-led groups that foster inclusivity and build community. The purpose of the group is to provide personal and professional support to its members, who usually share certain characteristics in common – like being Hispanic, or those who simply have interest in learning about a culture that is not unique to them.

AT&T has 14 EGs, including HACEMOS, which was established in 1988 and is dedicated to supporting Hispanic employees and the communities they live in. There are 36 HACEMOS chapters across the country supporting more than 8,500 members. The Houston chapter currently supports 278 members – all in different phases of their career.

HACEMOS members believe that “Juntos HACEMOS más,” which means “Together we do more.” Under that guiding belief, members work together to support each other in advancing their careers. Through HACEMOS, AT&T employees can participate in various professional development learning opportunities and have access to one- on-one mentorship sessions with members from the leadership team.

For many members, the group offers a safe environment to engage and learn from other professionals who understand their personal and professional hurdles from a cultural point of view.

At a personal level, the support I receive from HACEMOS has helped me to better understand and be proud of my heritage. HACEMOS has embraced my “Latina” identity, encouraging me to continue using my Spanish skills to serve our Latino customers within AT&T.

EGs provide members with a sense of community and belonging. 

Most EGs have a community aspect to them that allow members to work together to address needs in their communities. HACEMOS members in Houston take pride in organizing, volunteering, and participating in various initiatives that provide support to the most vulnerable members of their community.

This year, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Houston HACEMOS Chapter will be hosting events throughout the city, helping support our youth and instill the importance of continuing their education and striving for success. Our national group is actively volunteering on efforts to help close the digital divide (the gap between people who have reliable internet access and those who do not) which is more likely to impact people of color, especially Hispanic families.

EGs create a win-win for employees and employers. 

EGs are beneficial to employees and employers. It’s true, EG members are engaged and develop strong relationships with their colleagues from other departments resulting in a collaborative environment.

Also, the company benefits from the knowledge and skills EG members gain through the various workshops and learning resources. In addition, EG members serve as brand ambassadors in the community for the company while they participate in community volunteer events.

So, if the company you work for currently does not have an EG you identify with, it’s easy to build your case to launch one. And if your company has an EG you identify with, then I encourage you to join it today – I can ensure you, it will be a rewarding experience that can help you advance your career.

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Erika Portillo is the Houston HACEMOS president for AT&T.

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