Originally published: Pittsburgh Business Journal. 4/15/2022
A few months into my new role as the president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, I had a conversation with our National Urban League President Marc Morial. We talked about my having big shoes to fill, and I told Marc that I am not filling anyone’s shoes. I am wearing my own. I went on to say that I’m not even sitting in my predecessor’s chair as I had purchased my own. Esther Bush was amazing, and I can never be her. Marc responded that it was a powerful statement.
Recently, I saw a post from my successor at the Homeless Children’s Education Fund (HCEF), Ardana Jefferson, who filled my previous role there. She said, “I have big shoes to fill, Carlos Carter led this organization well.” I replied, “Correction … you have no big shoes to fill! Your size is just right! You will move the mission forward in a big way!”
New leaders can fall into the trap of thinking that they must be like the leaders who came before them. The truth is the prior leaders were there for their time and purpose. New leaders need to move forward with the mentality that they can receive lessons and guidance from their predecessor but they must create their own vision in a manner that is unique to them to advance the mission appropriately for today.
This conversation is important because there have been many leadership transitions in the region recently. This is a period in history where we need sound leadership more than ever. We need leaders who are confident, innovative, good listeners and focused on empowering their people to be great and to do great things. As batons are passed, it is important that new leaders don’t feel the need to “fill anybody’s shoes.”
It is more productive to focus on moving the mission forward. As a new leader, my charge is to enable Black people and other marginalized communities to achieve economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights and to help make Southwestern PA livable for all its residents.
New leaders must be committed to learning from the past, but more importantly being innovative and focused on what it will take to create a greater impact now and into the future.
Finally, and most importantly, we must make sure that we are equipped with the tools and knowledge to become the best leaders at this point in history. Be a leader who leads authentically and is mission focused. Be an enthusiastic leader who listens, solves problems and empowers people to do what it takes to make a positive impact on the region. The next time someone tells you that you have big shoes to fill, remind yourself that your objective is to advance the mission and lead forward!
Carlos T. Carter is the president & CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.