Anthony López: The legacy leader
Anthony López, a Latino expert, author, and speaker on leadership, joined AL DÍA for a discussion on what it means to be a leader, as well as Latino advancement in corporate America.
When asked about how he defines leadership, Anthony López brought up a definition crafted by John Kotter in the now retired Harvard leadership professor’s 1990 book, “A Force for Change.”
“He says a leader, by definition, is someone who can direct, align, and motivate a group of people,” López recalled. “Direct, align and motivate.”
And López agrees with this definition, he said, except for one thing.
“By that definition, you could argue, and I think you’d be correct, that Hitler was a good leader,” López said. “He directed his people, he aligned his people, he motivated his people. By that definition, a lot of leaders who we would look at and say they did atrocious things would be good leaders.”
“For me, it’s about directing, aligning and motivating people with a good purpose in mind,” he continued. “That’s where leadership, sort of, begins for me. What is your purpose in leading?”
And for López, an established voice in corporate America as well as a published author and speaker on the subject of leadership, purpose is all about legacy.
“The ultimate purpose of leadership is to leave a legacy that you, your family, your friends, your society, whatever group of people you’re impacting, can be proud of,” López said. This idea is one he expands on in his book, “The Legacy Leader: Leadership with a Purpose.”
Since his formative years, López has always been drawn towards being a leader, from playing sports while growing up in Puerto Rico, to becoming a captain in the U.S. Air Force, to taking on various leadership roles with companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Ansell Healthcare.
As a Latino man who has climbed the corporate ladder, López is a vocal advocate for Latino inclusion in the upper echelons of corporate America, which translates to more Latinos in c-suite and boardroom positions to address the current disparity. According 2015 findings by the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR) in which 128 U.S. companies were surveyed, a dismal 7 percent of board seats were held by Latinos despite representing more than 17 percent of the nation’s population overall.
Based on his own knowledge of the U.S. corporate world, López named several possible reasons for the lack of Latino representation.
“There are some incumbent issues going on,” López explained, noting that many leaders of older, more established companies have been in their positions for a long time, and they are, generally, non-Latino.
“We tend to want to surround ourselves with people we’re comfortable with...people who are like us, people who look like us, people that sound like us. It’s just a natural tendency,” López said. “Unless they think about it carefully and thoughtfully say, ‘I need to surround myself with a diversity of thought that comes with a diversity of people,’ they end up surrounding themselves with their comfort zone.”
Further, the way people are socialized while growing up plays a role in this leadership disparity, according to López, who noted that upbringings are different across cultures. For example, in many Latino cultures, more value is placed on things like family and loyalty rather than “getting ahead and winning at all costs,” which could be the way other people looking to climb the corporate ladder are conditioned.
“Those dynamics you bring with you to the workplace, and maybe you’re not accustomed to pounding your chest and saying, ‘Look what I did,’ but they are,” López said, adding that socialization does not apply only when discussing Latinos in corporate America, but other groups of people who have long been less frequently considered for seats in the boardroom, such as women.
Finally, López mentioned that the Latinos who do make it to the top have not prioritized enough the concept of helping other Latinos achieve the same, while other groups, namely African Americans, “have a better track record of actually doing that.”
“We weren’t aggressively going after it. We, individually, and certainly collectively, we weren’t going after it. We weren’t enabling, supporting, promoting, pulling, pushing, each other,” López said. “As the Latino community, we’ve not done that as effectively as others have. So the few of us that are getting there are not, frankly, being as effective as we should pulling the others.”
When it comes to corporate leadership, López emphasized that diversity is not justified only for its own sake, but in the fact that it improves the companies that embrace it.
“What I’m saying is that a smart leader understands that a diverse organization is a more powerful organization,” López affirmed. “A smart leader doesn’t need any more evidence to know that having diversity of people — and, therefore, diversity of thought that comes with it, and diversity of backgrounds and diversity of all sorts because there’s so many dimensions of person — is gonna enable his or her organization to be a better, stronger, global, innovative and frankly, if it’s a for-profit organization, profitable company.”
López referred to the numbers relative to diversity, the inclusion of people of color and women in boardrooms and c-suite positions, as “sad, disappointing, frustrating,” especially because there is no lack of “talented individuals available, ready to go, willing to serve.”
While women have made some encouraging progress in this regard, López noted that the numbers remain stagnant for Latinos. However, beyond drawing attention to the issue through discussion, López is excited by the work that groups like the Latino Business Action Network (LBAN) are undertaking. López said LBAN, through education and other means, is working to bolster Latino entrepreneurs and CEOs to “double the number of $1 million, $10 million, $100 million and $1 billion Latino-owned companies in the country.”
The idea is, rather than to rely only on existing networks to ensure Latino inclusion in corporate America, why not also create new ones?
“If you keep knocking on the same doors and nobody’s opening the door, that’s kind of the definition of insanity,” López remarked. “You’re driving yourself nuts trying to get through a door that’s never gonna open to you.”
“So rather than try to beat ourselves into the current boards that are in existence, I’d say create new boards, create new companies, create new avenues,” López said. “And make sure that those organizations understand the principles and the value of diversity in their boards and in their teams and in their leadership, and create the opportunities.”
When asked what guidance he can give to young people who are looking to fill his shoes and climb the corporate ladder, López offered three thoughts, the first being that education is paramount and that there is no excuse to be uneducated considering the resources the modern world offers.
“And I don’t mean formal education exclusively. I don’t mean go get a bachelor’s and a master’s and a Ph.D. If you can do that, great,” López explained. “I’m saying… remain an educated, constant learner. Become an expert in your field. Become aware of the news, the environment... Be an educated individual. Nobody can take that away from you.”
Next, “focus on your performance.”
“The results that you yield today, that’s what’s gonna be getting you noted and promoted. If you don’t have that, we’re not gonna be having a discussion about promotion,” López said. “I don’t care if you’re Latino, Latina, it doesn’t matter. Performance first.”
Finally, López stressed the importance of simply being available to take chances on your career, even if it involves opportunities you had never previously considered.
“Be available for the opportunity. When the opportunity presents, be willing to move if it requires a move. Be available,” López said. “Be open to moving, to trying something different, to taking a lateral move, not just an upward move.”
“Be willing to be flexible.”