Latino-centric leadership program LEADeres expanding to the Lakeshore

When Mexico native Carlos Sanchez arrived in West Michigan 20 years ago, the young bilingual professional was quickly recruited as one of a handful of Latino leaders to serve on boards and commissions.

“I didn't know many other Latinx professionals to look up to for mentoring or advice. I wanted to change that,” he says.

Since then, he has been on a mission to develop leadership tied to the economic development of Latinx communities. He did so first as executive director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and, in the past decade, as the founder of the Latino-centric leadership program LEADeres

The program is expanding to the Lakeshore this fall. 

It’s designed to help Latino professionals develop the skills, resources, and confidence needed to become leaders at work and in the community. A major part of that support is the opportunity program participants will have to tap into a dynamic network of Latinx professionals made up of LEADeres alumni, who are carrying out their program’s mission to build up the Latinx community.

LEADeres is a non-credit leadership lab at Ferris State University’s Latino Business and Economic Development Center, designed to support Latinx professionals as they pursue their individual career and life goals. 

Spur economic development

In 2012, Ferris brought in Sanchez to launch its initiative to connect with the growing Hispanic population in West Michigan. The mission was to spur economic development with three goals in mind:
  • Provide participants with a unique networking opportunity.
  • Offer valuable insight into cultural differences that impact workplace behaviors.
  • Create the chance for participants to test newly developed cross-cultural skills in a safe learning environment. 

For the Lakeshore program, which starts in October, Sanchez has recruited the first cohort of 15 Latinx professionals and is working with facilitators from the area and local venues to host the classes. 

“The idea is to bring Latinx professionals to places where they wouldn’t normally go,” he says.

Those who take the classes tend to be in a career and ready to make a move in their careers.

“They are getting uncomfortable with where they are, and now thinking, ‘Should I start an MBA or should I do this?’” Sanchez says. “I want them hungry for knowledge.”

Network of graduates

Over the past eight years, LEADeres has created a network of nearly 150 graduates.

“We can recreate that on the Lakeshore, and also connect them with the Grand Rapids LEADeres alumni,” Sanchez says. 

Most graduates gain upward mobility in some way. 

“What I've heard from them is that they realize they've been undervalued because they're bilingual and they have these experiences,” says Sanchez, noting that many have run for office after graduating from the program.

He points to Juanita Bocanegra, a former Ottawa County prosecutor who in 2020 was elected as the county’s first Hispanic, Spanish-speaking judge. 

In the corporate world, graduates come out of the program ready to be considered for leadership programs at their companies. The program costs $650, and employers often pick up the expense, which is low compared to similar leadership programs. 
Juan Rosario, a talent solutions manager at West Michigan Works!, credits LEADeres with giving him a higher sense of awareness around the importance of cultural diversity. 

He learned ways to better understand how to leverage his own identity to lead and influence others.

“The knowledge gained on what it means to be culturally competent has helped me become a better listener to my team, as well as to the community West Michigan Works! serves. LEADeres has reinforced my commitment to help move the community forward — and the importance of civic engagement,” Rosario told sister publication Rapid Growth Media, for a 2020 article about the program.  

Diverse group

Sanchez says he is intentional about recruiting a diverse group for the program, representing the diversity of culture and heritage within the Latinx community.

Hispanics represent the third-largest demographic in both the state of Michigan and in the city of Grand Rapids. They represent 10% of Ottawa County and more than 24% of the city of Holland’s population. 

With the growth of this population along the Lakeshore and throughout West Michigan, Sanchez says there’s a need to develop and prepare more Latinx individuals to assume professional and leadership roles in the community.

“The LEADeres program is uniquely designed to help Latino professionals be equipped and better positioned to take advantage of opportunities that can help them to participate in all facets of West Michigan’s growing economy,” he says. 

The groups meet monthly, on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Breakfast and lunch are provided, as well as all materials and reading assignments.

Grand Rapids sessions:
Friday, Oct. 8, 5:30 p.m. — Orientation dinner
Oct. 9 — Innovation
Nov. 13 — Cultural Awareness
Dec. 11 — Leadership
Jan. 15 — Professional Development
Feb. 12 — Civic Engagement
March 12 — Capstone
Wednesday, March 24, 5:30 p.m. — Graduation

Lakeshore sessions:
Friday, Oct. 15, 5:30 p.m. — Orientation dinner
Oct. 16 — Innovation
Nov. 20 — Cultural Awareness
Dec. 18 — Leadership
Jan. 22 — Professional Development
Feb. 19 — Civic Engagement
March 19 — Capstone
Wednesday, March 31, 5:30 p.m. — Graduation

In addition to the monthly sessions, additional small group meetings are held. The program cost is $650 per person and partial scholarships are available based on need.

Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.