Leadership is both an art and a responsibility, and effective leaders know how to use their leadership to inspire and guide change. For Latino leaders like me, drawing from my culture has strengthened my authenticity in leadership. My cultural identity—shaped by heritage, traditions, and values—defines my leadership and influences my connections with others.
Why I Draw from My Cultura
Incorporating my cultural identity into my leadership style has proven challenging, a sentiment shared by many Latinos. Several factors contribute to this, including our negative portrayal in the media and the exploitation of social issues within our community for political gain. But this is precisely why it has been crucial for me as a Latino leader to rewrite this narrative by showcasing the beauty and significance of my cultural heritage.
Here are some of the ways in which this has made me a better leader:
Authenticity and Trust
Cultural identity is one of the pillars of authenticity in leadership. When leaders embrace their cultural heritage, they project sincerity and genuine intentions. Authenticity builds trust, and trust is the bedrock of effective leadership. People are more likely to follow leaders who are true to themselves and their roots.
Inclusivity and Diversity
Leaders who draw from their culture are often more open to embracing diversity and promoting inclusivity. They appreciate the richness that different backgrounds bring to the table, fostering an environment where every individual’s unique perspective is valued. This inclusivity can lead to innovative solutions and a stronger sense of unity within the team. Being an inclusive leader requires cultural intelligence, which is an essential skill in today’s interconnected world that equips us to navigate cross-cultural interactions. These leaders are more likely to respect cultural nuances, avoid misunderstandings, and build meaningful relationships with individuals from diverse backgrounds.
Resilience and Adaptability
Having a strong sense of cultural identity creates a steady foundation—an anchor—for navigating a multicultural and globalized workforce. Cultural identity often carries with it a sense of resilience and adaptability. Many Latin American cultures have faced challenges and adversity throughout history, and this resilience can be a valuable trait in leaders. Drawing from their cultural experiences, leaders can inspire their teams to overcome obstacles with grace and determination.
How I Lead with My Cultura
I have often heard Latino professionals rave about how great it was to hear a workshop or presentation that resonated with their experiences. The inevitable follow-up has always been about how to live out the newfound knowledge.
Here are four practical strategies for drawing from our cultura as we lead:
Cultural Soul Searching
Leaders can invest time and energy to better understanding their own cultural heritage. This can be in the form of reading history books, watching documentaries, spending time in the motherland, and enjoying the company of others who are on the same journey. By doing this, leaders establish a strong sense of identity, which will help them overcome any challenges pertaining to the pressure of assimilation. This knowledge can also help leaders navigate cultural differences, promote inclusivity, and make informed decisions that consider diverse perspectives.
Defining Our Approach
There are great resources to help Latino leaders define how they want to lead in culturally informed ways. Juana Borda’s The Power of Latino Leadership, Andrés Tomás Tapia and Dr. Robert Rodriguez’s Auténtico: The Definitive Guide to Latino Career Success, and Frank Carbajal and Jose Morey’s LatinX Business Success helped me along the way. When Latino leaders are culturally informed, they are better equipped to create a sense of belonging and foster personalized development. Authentic Latino leaders can encourage employees to share their cultural customs, thus building a more culturally diverse and respectful work environment.
Mentorship and Role Models
Identifying cultural role models and mentors within and outside of the organization can provide inspiration and guidance for both Latino leaders. These individuals can serve as living examples of how to incorporate cultural identity into leadership effectively. As chapter president of ALPFA Orange County, I have seen this be one of the most powerful outcomes of creating network spaces specific to Latina/o professionals.
One powerful way to draw from our cultura as we lead is through storytelling. Sharing personal stories rooted in our cultural background allows us to connect with others on a deeper level. These stories can convey important lessons, values, and insights that resonate with our team members, though they may at times be difficult to share. On a personal note, it is always interesting to see the audience’s response to how I draw lessons on resilience from my parent’s journey of immigrating to the United States from Nicaragua.
Harnessing our cultura in leadership empowers us with the gifts of authenticity, inclusivity, and cultural intelligence. By infusing our leadership practices with cultural elements, we honor our heritage and foster an environment where diversity thrives. In our interconnected world, cultural identity becomes a precious asset, elevating leadership’s significance and impact. As we lead, let your cultural roots guide you towards effective and genuine leadership.
Norlan Hernández Blandón is a proud Nica/Nicoya—terms used to describe someone with Nicaraguan roots. He is the proud father to Aella Mia and husband to Isabel.
He is the founder and president of Faithful Teachings Inc. a nonprofit organization that aims to catalyze the transformation of society in Latin America through partnerships with local faith-based communities, and is also the director of the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership at Vanguard University. In this role, Hernández Blandónworks internally with administrators, faculty, and staff to support student success and strengthen Vanguard University’s Hispanic-serving initiatives. Externally, he helps advance the center’s mission through pastoral education, congregational care, academic research, and community development.
His previous roles include leading a corporate training department that served an international audience. He has also led a team of higher education professionals who pioneered institutional efforts in creating an infrastructure to support fully online undergraduate and graduate students.
He holds a BA in liberal studies with an emphasis on culture and society from California State Los Angeles, an MA in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, and a PhD in intercultural studies from Biola’s Cook School of Intercultural Studies. His research interests include Latin American identity, theology, contextualization, leadership, justice, and DEI.