This month, for National Hispanic Heritage Month, I was honored to speak with Erica Arias (EML Cohort 14) about leadership, business strategy, empowering others, and paving the future for Latina business women.
Erica Arias, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Police Museum, possesses over 18 years of experience in nonprofit development and strategic management. A dedicated advocate for Latina business women, both in entrepreneurial and executive roles, Erica serves as Vice President of the Board of Directors for the National Latina Women Business Association of Los Angeles.
“I truly believe your people must come first."
Can you share your leadership path?
Erica: Reflecting back on my personal and professional journey, I have always been a leader. I was never afraid to speak my truths or values, and have always felt a deep need to share all I’ve learned with others so they can be their best alongside me.
I was (and still am) fortunate to have many experienced mentors who saw my value, my ability to lead, and my passion for empowering others. My experience in both higher education and as an entrepreneur afforded me many opportunities to shape other leaders to be the best possible versions of themselves for their teams. That also included proper business education and management of human capital.
I truly believe your people must come first. I have learned leadership is so much more than just rallying a group for buy-in behind a mission or ideology. Leadership is the ability to empower others to believe in those shared values. Despite my diverse and extensive experience with business and nonprofit development, in many ways, I feel my leadership journey has just begun.
“I hope to show my fellow Latinas that we absolutely have a seat in the big show."
How about your leadership role in the community?
Erica: Before taking my position as Executive Director of the Los Angeles Police Museum, I developed many startup and grassroots nonprofits. I was president of my consulting firm; the work we did allowed us to delve deep into underserved communities that were not able to receive practical business education. Many of these small businesses and nonprofits found processes far too daunting or intimidating. I made it a personal mission to shape business owners with a leadership mindset that empowered their teams.
It was absolutely gratifying seeing small business and nonprofit leaders see themselves as executives and step into their roles as knowledgeable, prepared leaders. I have been lucky to work with many brilliant, talented leaders who share the same values in empowering others.
“Only the greatest leaders create greater versions of themselves in others.”
How do you plan to change the world for Latina business women?
Erica: I am currently serving as the Vice President for the National Latina Business Women Association. Our work in the Latina business community is instrumental in providing them with resources and tools for both entrepreneurial and professional success.
As one may gather, the business community--especially the Latina Business community--is very important to me. I hope to show my fellow Latinas that we absolutely have a seat in the big show (pardon the baseball reference). I hope to not only be an example of an ethical and respected leader, but a source of information and experience others can learn from -- not just to take my examples and emulate them, but to take them and become an even better leader than I am.
I was once told by a mentor that only the greatest leaders create greater versions of themselves in others. If you are not empowering people to learn from and become a greater version of you, your leadership journey isn’t a journey at all. I only hope that I pave the way for greater generations of Latina leaders in the future.
“While others shy away from change and pressure, I thrive in it.”
What drives and sets you apart?
Erica: What sets me apart is my constant drive to learn and evolve. I want to absorb proper and sound knowledge from others who have gone before me whilst maintaining a vision for innovative ways to lead.
While others shy away from change and pressure, I thrive in it. My constant vision to improve and innovate propels me forward to see the success of the organizations I lead. When I see antiquated and failed systems, I want to repair them not just by technical processes, but by innovative thinking. It will never be our degrees or accomplishments that set us apart - it is the way in which we approach our environments that do.
“Demonstrating integrity and ethics is paramount...if we lose these, we lose everything a leader should be.”
What are your three most important beliefs, rules or insights about succeeding as a leader?
Erica: First and foremost, people first. Always. Leaders must see the value in their teams. They must value strengths over pressing people with incorrect methods of production and output. I believe a blend of servant leadership and a strengths-based approach to leadership undoubtedly yields success.
Second, I believe demonstrating integrity and ethics is paramount. Simply put, if we lose these, we lose everything a leader should be.
Last, communication is key to connecting. Without this basic value, there really is no way to lead others. Understanding how others receive communication and how you disseminate information can make all of the difference.