Principled Leadership: A Motivator for Success

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Editor’s note: In celebration of Black History Month in February, PRSA invited prominent black leaders in the public relations profession to offer their views and ideas for achieving greater racial and ethnic diversity in the profession. This is the first post in the series. A compilation of previous PRSA Black History Month blog posts can be found here.

When I was younger and spoke before a group or wrote a commentary piece, I rarely quoted others. I imagined that somehow, by doing so, I might suggest to the audience that I didn’t have any thoughts or ideas of my own. Over the years, this became habit. So, on the occasion of Black History Month, I am purposefully writing a piece sprinkled with quotes by amazing African-Americans.

As a news junkie, I’m always combing the trades, papers and trusted online news sites to learn who’s doing what in Corporate America, particularly women, and especially African-American women.

When Ursula Burns became Chairman and CEO of Xerox, it was a moment of pride and reflection. How did she get there? How does she measure success? Rosalind G. Brewer, Sam’s Club’s new president and CEO, signaled to me that surprises can happen in the most unexpected places. And, like most of the world, I’m watching closely, the public life of Michelle Obama.

Without knowing any of these women personally, I can say with confidence that these women have courage, are principled leaders and have embraced the tenets and ethics of the public relations profession. I can also take the leap and suggest that the ladies believe as Booker T. Washington believed:

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”
— Booker T. Washington

Each year, I look to the Catalyst organization to give me an update on where we stand as African-American women in the workplace. The statistics paint a pretty clear picture of the obstacles African-American women face in Corporate America.

When you consider women of color held only 3 percent of board seats in the Fortune 500 in both 2010 and 2011, and that is down from 3.1 percent in 2009, it becomes apparent that what should motivate us is not a position or title, but being vigilant to one’s core values.

“Don’t settle for average. Bring your best to the moment. Then, whether it fails or succeeds, at least you know you gave all you had. We need to live the best that’s in us.”
— Angela Bassett

All too often, principled leaders are viewed as stubborn because they refuse to compromise their values and beliefs. They persist against incredible obstacles — they are steady! They stay the course.

I absolutely love this quote by Colin Powell: “Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.” He says that good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions. It’s inevitable, if you’re honorable. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity; you’ll avoid the tough decisions; you’ll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted; and you’ll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset.

Principled leaders depend on research and evidence to inform the organization’s planning and execution. Because they know the value of fair and open communication, they are great listeners and evaluate outcomes, not outputs. They want to know the good news and the bad news. They embrace diversity because they understand that stereotypes are a trap.

For the principled leader, public relations and communications is:

  • Valued and the leader is actively engaged in communications activities;
  • Integrated with and supported by other areas of the company — marketing, senior management, finance, etc.;
  • Consistently evaluated for its effectiveness; and
  • A part of the senior management team

Principled leaders understand that there are no perfect leaders, no perfect organizations and no perfect plans. As public relations professionals, we can all be inspired as we are part of a growing community that celebrates success and finds opportunity in defeat.

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
— Maya Angelou

Cheryl I. Procter-Rogers, APR, Fellow PRSA, was the 2006 president and chief executive officer of the Public Relations Society of America. She is a senior consultant at A Step Ahead Public Relations, a Chicago-based firm.

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Cheryl I. Procter-Rogers, APR, Fellow PRSA

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