On Leadership: Effective Leaders Own the Message

Effective communication is critical for successful leaders.  An executive’s well-articulated vision to employees or a coach’s inspirational pre-game speech could make the difference between success and failure.  On a historic scale, the famous rallying cries of “Si se puede,” “The only thing to fear is fear itself,” and “I have a dream” gave people hope and promise for a better future.  Cesar Chavez, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were masters of using the media to move bold ideas, inspire a nation, and shape the course of history.

In Silicon Valley, history is definitely on our side.  A recent Santa Clara County Public Health report states that Latinos will make up nearly half of the projected 2.3 million county residents by the middle of this century, and our community is developing Latino leaders who have the smarts and ambition to guide the valley into the future.  Like visionary executives, motivational coaches, and inspirational national leaders, our next generation of leaders must have the ability to effectively communicate a vision for Silicon Valley to ensure success.

Despite the incredible growth of social media and other online platforms, the local newspaper is still the most influential media outlet with respect to shaping public policy that touches everyday life.  The newspaper endorses political candidates who in turn, as public policymakers, support initiatives and public activities advocated by the newspaper, and vice versa.  The local newspaper anoints those it deems smart, effective, and politically acceptable.  For those who are the anointed ones, it’s a pretty good deal.  If one doesn’t fall into that category, the chances of your message seeing the light of day in the newspaper are slim to none.

For Latinos, there’s a problem with this scenario.  We’re not exactly with the in crowd when it comes to the local press.  We’ve proven that we’re smart, effective, and politically acceptable to voters.  Apparently, however, the newspaper’s opinion-makers don’t see it the same way.  In the eyes of the local press, Latino activists and public officials are mediocre leaders who need to be monitored closely to ensure the public trust.

Whether through unintended inherent bias or well-planned institutional racism, the result is the same: newspaper readers are left to believe that Latinos can’t be trusted with the keys to local public leadership.  To address this reality, Latino leaders must find another way to effectively communicate to the public and influence public discourse.  That’s where social and online media can make the difference between success and failure.

For decades, Latino community leaders have been dragged through the proverbial mud by the local media.  Granted, some of it’s deserved because our leaders, like leaders of all creeds and colors, make mistakes.  We just have to realize that the while media has a microscope on public officials, it uses an electron microspore on Latino leaders.  The smallest indiscretion by Latinos will smudge a reputation, and real ethical lapses will land a Latino leader in court, or worse.  One could fill volumes citing editorials, news articles, and headlines providing evidence of this bias.  Unfortunately, there’s no space in this column for such an ambitious undertaking.

As we prepare Latinos to lead this valley into the future, we can address this disparity in one of two ways.  We can complain, protest, and shout racism at the top of our lungs, or we can do what political commentator Chris Matthews’ advises, “don’t get mad, don’t get even…get ahead.”  Of course, Matthews has it right.  We can no longer allow the media to tell our story or share our vision for the future from a perspective other than our own.  We can no longer allow the local press to define us and to perpetuate the insidious stereotype of the incompetent and untrustworthy Latino.

So how do we do this?  Like Chavez, Roosevelt, and King, we have to become masters of the media.  The media of mid-century Silicon Valley will be completely virtual and interactive.  But, we can’t wait until then to harness the limitless value of social and interactive media.  Our leaders should take advantage of every opportunity to learn how to use Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and other tools like SVLatino.com to create a platform that highlights our community and influences public life to make our entire valley stronger and more competitive.

For those who are scared or worried about a future Silicon Valley that includes Latinos leaders at the agenda-setting table, don’t fret. Today’s emerging Latino leaders are professionals who serve today as school principals, corporate, public, and non-profit managers, labor leaders, entrepreneurs, and elected officials. We don’t have a “Latino agenda,” rather we have a Silicon Valley agenda that includes a robust economy with good jobs, affordable housing, strong families, excellent schools, and quality health care.  So, despite what the local press might portray, our agenda isn’t really scary at all. And, this is great news for the entire valley.

On Leadership is a Column by  Eddie Garcia, LLA Co-Founder and President