James Williams is Co-Chair of Point Foundation’s Board of Directors. A PR professional who has lead teams at firms in Los Angeles, New York, DC and Chicago, he is the principal of James Williams Consulting, a specialty Communications Marketing practice. James and his husband live in L.A.
How did you become involved with Point Foundation – what parts of its mission particularly resonate with you?
I first became involved with Point Foundation seven years ago when I was General Manager of Edelman-Los Angeles. We took on Point as a pro bono client because several members of my Executive team were excited and taken by the organization’s impressive goals, as well as Executive Director Jorge Valencia’s passion and drive to support its mission and values. The more involved I became with Point Foundation, the more I wanted to give. I am truly honored to now be Co-Chair of Point’s Board of Directors with Claudia Caine.
The most critical element of Point’s mission to me is that Point empowers promising LGBTQ students to achieve their full academic and leadership potential. The financial assistance we offer students is truly wonderful but the 1:1 mentoring that we provide our scholars is what I believe sets Point Foundation apart from other organizations.
Is Point’s support and its encouragement of LGBTQ students especially relevant today?
We are living in a very precarious time. There have been so many positive advances in LGBTQ civil liberties in the recent past, but many of these now feel like they are on a precipitous ledge. The rise and acceptance of ‘alternative facts,’ abhorrent random tweets renouncing upstanding, contributing members of our society in the armed forces and the elevating levels of hate crimes in our country have left all of us uneasy and anxious. Now more than ever, we need to support Point Foundation, as well as mentor and encourage LGBTQ students because I believe they will stand up for what is right and they will play a significant role not only in our community’s future, but also in America’s destiny.
You have a great deal of experience managing large enterprises. What are some of the key hard and soft skills you would advise students to acquire to help them in their professional careers?
My career advice to college students is to get the best education you can, apply for internships in your field – these are critical in many professions – and then start building professional relationships and work your butt off. You would be amazed at how strong word-of-mouth can be for a positive, hardworking, smart intern.
But I believe the question you’re asking is about the one thing they don’t spend a lot of time teaching you in college: Leadership.
I have not met or worked with many “natural born leaders.” Leadership is a set of skills that needs to be developed, honed and sharpened. Hopefully, you will have an opportunity to work for a strong leader you can learn from and is able to articulate the vision for their office, group or team. Everyone needs to know “why are we doing this?” and the team’s end goal.
The “hard” skills – like speed, follow through and persistence – are critical in advancing your career and moving through the ranks. However, the level of your success may likely be because of how you blend your “hard” and “soft” work skills.
The “soft” skills are seen as the behavioral ways in which people do their work and takes into account how they relate to co-workers. These include Listening and Communicating, two of the most important skills in my field. They are often linked to your EQ or Emotional Quotient.
Other important skills include Confidence, Compassion, and Courage. As a leader, you don’t have the convenience or option to behave only for yourself. You must behave for others. Many leaders fail because they are stuck in an old mindset and continue to act only for their own benefit. Clearly, these are not Point Scholars.
It’s often said that Point Scholars are going to be society’s future leaders. Who are some of the individuals you have looked up to in your life and whom you find as inspiring role models?
I was lucky and blessed to have caring, wonderful parents who taught my three brothers and me that “we could do anything if we put our mind to it.” My parents were my earliest role models, and they were always kind, polite and decent, never uttering a sexist or racist comment.
However, I knew at an early age that my challenges were not going to the same kind of obstacles that either my parents or my brothers were going to come up against.
As a result, I searched for and read inspirational biographies of people who “broke molds,” challenged current thinking, faced extraordinary odds and succeeded. Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy all made an impression. As I matured, I looked to playwrights and authors including Larry Kramer and Tennessee Williams.
Today, we are very fortunate to have so many wonderful LGBTQ role models: Tim Cook and Lord John Browne in Business; Rachel Maddow, James B. Stewart and Anderson Cooper in Media; Jason Collins, Billie Jean King and Tom Daley in Sports; Ellen DeGeneres, Laverne Cox, Ellen Page, Lana Wachowski and Matt Bomer in the Arts and Tammy Baldwin, the first gay person to be elected to the US Senate from my home state of Wisconsin.
Read more about James Williams and the rest of Point’s Board of Directors here.