Speaking Truth to Power
My journey started nearly 30 years ago. After graduating from North Carolina A&T State University with a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering, I began my corporate journey at a multinational Fortune 100 company as part of a rotational leadership program. The first ten years of my career were met with setbacks, fumbles, and falls as I held numerous roles of progressive responsibility.
Each time I stumbled, however, I got back up. I dusted the dirt off my shoulders and worked diligently to overcome each obstacle. I accomplished many goals and continued to grow in my career, ultimately earning a position at the executive level as Foundation President at a global healthcare company.
My sheer determination, resilience, and confidence served as propellers of my success. I am a strong leader and a self-assured man who speaks his mind. I walk boldly in my purpose and identity as a confident Black Man.
This wasn't always the case. I was the first in my family to graduate from college and enter the upper management ranks in corporate America. I didn’t have someone to sit down with me and explain the nuanced rules of the corporate world--- and there were many rules.
Chess Not Checkers
The corporate world is a chess game where the rules are the best-kept secret. To succeed, you have to learn the rules of the game and play the game better than anyone else.
In the early years of my career, I received feedback that conflicted with my self-view. I saw myself as an ambitious person who showed up every day ready to accomplish great things. Others felt I was too aggressive and intimidating.
In response, I altered my persona to make others feel comfortable. I began to soften my persona resulting in the opposite effect where I received feedback that I was not aggressive enough or that people felt they could walk over me.
I devolved into a distorted version of myself at work having left parts of me at home, and I quickly started to lose my sense of self. I struggled with identity conflict for years on how to show up at work and ultimately lost my voice.
My breakthrough came years later after earning my MBA degree from Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill. I made a significant career transition by joining the brand marketing team at the world's 2nd most prominent food and beverage company.
After completing an onsite TV commercial shoot, my manager called me into his office and offered some feedback that would change my career trajectory. He said, "James, you are one of the smartest people I have ever met. I noticed that you seem hesitant during meetings to share your point of view. You should trust your instinct because your thoughts are strategic and grounded whenever you speak and add an incredible amount of value to the discussion. I have every confidence in you and want you to know you are an invaluable member of this team. I believe in you. You just need to believe in yourself."
It took several years before I finally grasped his comments. I started by giving myself permission to just be me. I learned that trusting my instinct and leveraging my voice to uplift others was my strong suit. The only perception that mattered was the one I had of myself.
On A Mission
It is easy to lose yourself in the corporate game. To become a carbon copy of what everyone thinks you should be..
I am the manifestation of all I wanted to be but getting here was not simple. At times I wish I had a network of Black Men who could empathize with my experiences and offer sage advice. I may have been naïve back then. But you don’t have to be. My experiences will be the key to unlock doors of opportunity for other Black Men.
Our mission is to ensure Black Men are seen, heard and celebrated as they progress in their careers. Through culturally-relevant leadership training and professional development, we provide a platform to share best practices so Black Men in corporate America are confident, connected and empowered.