What are some of the characteristics that people of color should possess as leaders? There are a lot of them. Number one is the ability to work with people. And, if you’re a person of what I call a minority persuasion, which means you could be a woman, a millennial or a person of color, you should be very skilled at working with people because you have had to learn how to move and navigate to create relationships your entire life. So, your ability to work with people to create a team is by and far the number one skill you can possess as a leader.

Karriem Shakoor presenting before Black Business Resource Group

I look out into the audience and I see several of my teammates here. They are the people who make me successful and make us successful. I could walk out tomorrow and get hit by a beer truck, but if I’ve done a good job of building the team around me and selecting talent, then the organization and the team can continue to play on. As a leader–it doesn’t matter if you’re a leader of color, a leader who’s a millennial, or a woman–you are only as good as your people. And if you don’t recognize them, if you don’t give them opportunities to succeed and to develop them, then as a leader, you can never be successful.

The other thing I would also say because I think it’s equally important, is you must have thick skin. I’m going to let that sink in. You need to really have thick skin because the fact that you may come from a culture different from the person sitting across from you is part of the issue, but the more significant point is that you chose to be a leader. Nobody put a chair underneath you and said sit in it. You made the conscious decision to become a leader. With that decision comes a lot of other opinions—about you, about your leadership, about how you interact with your people, about your qualifications or your lack of qualifications.

So, develop a thick skin. Get comfortable with people who have an opinion that doesn’t match your own, and most importantly, always be centered in the sense of who you are as a person and as a leader. When you get those dissenting perspectives, collect them and put them in a box or a drawer. Every once in a while, pull it out and rifle through it. Pull one out because sometimes those perspectives have value. They give you a sense of who the people around you are and the views they hold. I never tell people to go in like a Teflon pan and let everything bounce off you. Instead, you go in, and you choose to take it all in because those perspectives help inform how you should interact and lead.

Be careful in what you listen to, but hear everything. There are times when you pretend like you do not hear so that you can learn. That technique has been successful for me as a leader—focusing on my people, rewarding my people and always trying to hire good people. But, when I make not as good a decision on a person, I act quickly for the betterment of the team.

I made the decision to take on the role of leader. I’m never going to please everybody every day of the week, so instead, I focus on doing my job and understanding my purpose and understanding what part the team is being asked to perform. Then I make sure they have what they need to be successful because they do the work. Truly. I’m looking at like three of my biggest supporters right now. They do the work. It’s that simple. Thank you.