In our Leadership Journeys series, we’re profiling Baton Rouge-area leaders. We’re sharing where local leaders find inspiration and what decisions they’ve made on their leadership journey.
Eric Dexter is the director of business development at Civil Solutions Consulting Group, Inc., and the former president of Forum 35, a community group of young people dedicated to improving Baton Rouge. He’s also active in the community, serving on boards for the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, Baton Rouge Blues Foundation, and Apex Collegiate Academy.
I talked with him recently about his approach to leadership and how he continues to improve his leadership skills.
Talk about a time when you were faced with a leadership challenge. What did you do to manage it and what lessons did you learn from it?
One of the most recent challenges I faced as a leader was during my tenure as the Forum 35 president. Our board of directors decided to update our logo after having the existing logo for 20 years. The biggest challenge was gaining a consensus from our 21 board members on the new design and color.
Although you like to have as many opinions as possible when making a change as crucial as this was to our organization, it can also hinder you from making a decision in a timely manner. So, as the leader of the board, I had to come up with a plan that would allow for all of our board members to have their opinions heard while keeping the process moving forward.
I eventually decided to put together a small group of directors to help streamline the process by narrowing down the number of design and color options. Once that was narrowed down to a handful of options for each, we voted as the board on our favorite design and color.
As a leader, you must know when to involve others in the decision making process and when to use your intuition as a trusted leader and make the best decision on behalf of the entire organization.
What kind of mentoring have you gotten in the past? Who do you look up to?
I received some of the best mentoring during my junior and senior years at Northwestern State University. In particular, my marketing professor, Scott Roach, and the assistant dean of the college of business, Walter Creighton, always made themselves available to me when I needed to talk about my future as a professional.
Some of the best moments were when I just made impromptu stops by their offices and they were willing to sit and talk to me for a few minutes. They may have not known, but those few minutes of their time meant so much to me. As a young man who had lost both of his parents by the age of 19, they provided me with words of advice that gave me the confidence I needed at that time that ultimately helped me to make the decision to accept a job in Baton Rouge.
These days, I look to leaders who are progressive and inclusive, while remaining business-oriented decision makers. Apple CEO Tim Cook is one that comes to mind. I also work with several local nonprofit leaders and admire the passion they bring to their respective organizations. Two that immediately come to mind are John Davies with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and Maxine Crump with the Dialogue on Race of Louisiana.
What are some traits of effective leaders and how do you continue to foster your leadership skills?
- Being a good listener.
- Not being afraid to admit you don’t have the answer.
- Being able to effectively communicate with your team is key.
- Being decisive.
I continue to develop my leadership skills by shadowing other leaders. I make an effort to reach out to other leaders around the community to schedule a coffee talk. Even if it’s just 15 minutes of their time, I try to ask one question that will provide me with some insight into what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis that helps them to be successful leaders.
I also participate in local leadership programs. I’ve gone through Forum 35’s John W. Barton, Sr. Community Development Leadership Program as well as the Baton Rouge Area Leadership Program through the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.
What are some barriers to effective leadership? How can leaders who want to be successful deal with them?
- Resisting change. A leader must understand that times and people do change and we must continue to evolve in our leadership style.
- Micromanaging employees or your team. You have to be able to delegate certain tasks to your team and let them figure things out and make mistakes.
- Assuming you have all the answers. You’ve surrounded yourself by a certain team for a reason. One of them is probably because they are intelligent. If that’s the case, they may have some useful experiences that you may not have had.
What did you want to do when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a professional football player. However, when my 10th-grade speech teacher went around the class asking everyone what they wanted to be as a professional, my answer was a businessman. I just knew that no matter what profession I went into, I wanted to wear nice suits like my dad and work in an office. And here I am today, doing just that.
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