Take Yourself Down a few Notches! Javier Alberto Soto on Humility and Values-Driven Leadership.
?Some of the best leaders I have seen have deep humility,? says Javier Alberto Soto, president and CEO of The Miami Foundation, a nonprofit helping hundreds of individuals, families and corporations deepen their impact through philanthropy. ?Leaders should not take themselves too seriously or start to believe their own hype,? he continues. ?Rather, realize that you are part of something bigger and more important than you.?
Mr. Soto has observed that progress happens when leaders set aside their egos. ?When you do that, you can work on the broader agenda that needs your attention,? he says.
Being humble positions a person to exercise an important skill of leadership: listening. ?You should listen more than you speak, in order to learn and hear what others are offering,? comments Mr. Soto. ?To lead, you need a lot of voices around the table and the leader is the person who should be listening the most intently.?
It?s clear that Mr. Soto is a good example of a humble leader. He?s not someone who likes to be ?in front of the curtain,? he says, but prefers to be a behind the scenes leader.
In fact, he is reticent to talk about himself. His favorite topic of conversation is the community of Miami; he is unabashed in his love and pride for the city.
?I came from a hard-working, blue-collar family in the Shenandoah neighborhood of Miami and I went to public schools,? he shares. ?Miami is the city where a guy like me can realize a dream. If you live in Miami, you know there absolutely is a path to a successful future. There?s no other city like it in this country.?
?Being humble positions a person to exercise an important skill of leadership: listening.?
A key asset Mr. Soto brings to his leadership position at The Miami Foundation is his extensive knowledge and relationships across all of Miami and in federal, state and local government. He has spent much of his career in the public sector, serving as chief of staff to former Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas and as director of intergovernmental affairs. Prior to joining the Foundation in 2009, Mr. Soto served as senior vice president and general counsel at Dutko Worldwide, a multi-disciplinary public affairs firm.
Mr. Soto graduated cum laude from Florida State University and earned his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center.
His work at The Miami Foundation often has Mr. Soto interacting with the area?s established–and emerging–leaders. The Foundation?s Miami Fellows Program, a 15-month development program established in 1999, engages new leaders. People who have been inspired by the community’s potential, have demonstrated leadership and have the dedication to do more and learn important leadership skills in order to take the mantle for Miami?s continued capitalization of advantages.
?The Miami Fellows program is dedicated to helping the next generation of leaders in building a Greater Miami,? Mr. Soto says.
Help along the way
Reflecting on the key resources that have made him the leader he is today, Mr. Soto lists:
Mentors. Learning while watching strong leaders can effectively begin the leadership development process. ?I have been blessed to be close to leaders and watch them as they exercise their skills,? Mr. Soto reports. ?This is where I first realized that a humble leader is the most effective of all.?
Opportunity. ?Early in my career, I was thrown into a leadership position,? he shares. ?That proved to be an excellent way of putting my leadership principles to work. You can only sit and watch so long. Young leaders need to be tested in the arena and I?m grateful that happened for me.?
Leadership Development Programs. To continue to make an impact, take advantage of leadership development programs, Mr. Soto recommends. He has participated in Leadership Florida and has recently been named as one of the 2013 Henry Crown Fellows at The Aspen Institute. He especially speaks highly of the Leading Decisions program at FIU?s Center for Leadership, a program for both high potential and accomplished leaders. ?One of the important things I learned in this program was the role of values in decision making,? he says. ?As a direct result, now at the Foundation, we conduct a values interview with potential employees and that has been tremendously positive to our culture.?
With several new and or reenergized initiatives throughout South Florida drawing attention to the need for greater civic engagement and philanthropy, organizations such as The Miami Foundation serve the vital role of brokering those that want to give or donate and those in need of resources.
Mr. Soto speaks highly of the importance of giving. ?When I was growing up, my dad worked in a factory and he and my mother cleaned an office building at night. When I watched him pay the bills, he always gave something to charity.? Mr. Soto says. ?Just as important as paying the light bill was for him to give $3.00 or so to groups that needed our help. Those were my parents? values and it made a lasting impact on me.?
Mr. Soto learned something else from his parents, a quality that he identifies as the most important characteristic of a strong leader: integrity. ?Only with a proper and strong code of principals can you effectively lead,? he says without reservation. ?For leaders of small or large organizations, integrity is essential for good outcomes.?