Being The Boss When It’s Black Over White – 7 Strategies to Manage the Nuances and Challenges is my newly released book. I was motivated to write this book because of what I had seen our nation’s highest leader, President Barack Obama, endure as a Black man leading our country.
The visceral, racist and bigoted reactions to his very presence shook me back into the reality of being Black in America. As I considered the antics to undermine President Obama’s leadership brazenly play out on a global stage, I thought about some of the challenges I, and other Black people in leadership positions, have faced, not because of our competence — but because of our color.
I reflected on some of the more blatant, as well as the more subtle, challenges that I’ve both observed and personally experienced. I reflected on the scenarios I witnessed as a senior vice president of Human Resources with a seat at the “Power Table” where opportunities and promotions for the corporation were decided. Based on these experiences and observations, this book was born out of a need to validate what I believe every Black leader knows — that racism toward Blacks in leadership is real.
The book is intentionally provocative, opening with this level-setting quote: “Those who think it’s a level playing field usually have box seats.” It then goes on to unveil some of the insidious and pernicious perceptions and beliefs that operate to make the position of leadership for Blacks unnecessarily challenging and, often, untenable.
Another purpose of the book is to share strategies with Black managers who are promoted to or occupy a position that requires them to engage employees who often question their suitability for the role of being their boss — thus the subtitle, 7 Strategies to Manage the Nuances and Challenges.
Collectively, the chapters address what a Black boss — anyone in a leadership or managerial role — must sometimes deal with because of his or her skin color and how they should handle these issues successfully with courage and with dignity.
While writing the book, I had several revelations as I tested concepts and sections of the manuscript with close associates and friends. Their comments brought about the realization that this book is not just a “How To” collection of strategies for Black leaders to be successful. It is a cathartic diary of their lived experiences. It is affirmation that the issues they are, or were, facing are not imaginary. It is empowering for those who now have strategies to manage their careers effectively. It is liberating for many who have had to suffer, in silence, the indignities of being the Black boss.
And finally, it is instructional for other Black senior leaders (Sadly, still too few in number) to use their power integrally to serve, guide and advocate for all talented employees in their span of influence, but especially for their talented Black employees who are often overlooked when opportunities are being decided.
My personal journey included a rewarding career in nonprofits and local politics before spending 22 years with Kraft Foods, where I advanced to become a senior vice president of Human Resources. I attribute my success to savvy, but down-to-earth mentors, a strong work ethic, a commitment to excellence and to the employees I served, along with unwavering candor.
At Kraft, I had finally earned a seat at the table of power where employees’ career trajectories were determined. There I became an advocate for any talented employee being overlooked, sidelined or derailed. I was especially vigilant in advocating for Black leaders who would otherwise have been left on the cutting room floor after placement decisions had been made. I used my power — softly, but with a big stick of knowledge, courage, commitment and compassion. Today, I continue to be a tireless advocate for Blacks in leadership.
Kwame S. Salter is a writer, a speaker on the topic of leadership and a coach to senior and emerging executives. He is a longtime Oak Park resident who now lives in Florida. “Being The Boss When It’s Black Over White, 7 Strategies to Manage the Nuances and Challenges” is available at salterconsultinggroup.com.