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On People Leadership: Business executive Karen Carter defines her management style

Carla Eckels
/
KMUW
Karen Carter was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum Trailblazers Hall of Fame on Nov. 10, 2023.

Business executive Karen S. Carter explains how she puts together her management team.

Wichita native and Dow business executive Karen Carter is thriving in the C-suite as she conducts business around the world. She's the company's first Black female business president, responsible for $29 billion in annual sales. Last Friday, Carter was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum Trailblazers Hall of Fame. KMUW's Carla Eckels asks Carter, her younger sister, about her leadership skills.

Courtesy photo
Wichita-native Karen S. Carter is business president for Packaging and Specialty Plastics at Dow in Midland, Michigan.

Interview Highlights

Carter on what it's like to lead more than 35,000 people

"People leadership is the number one responsibility that I have. Even beyond profit and loss. I mean, it really is about people. So, it's about how do you hire people, the people that I surround myself with that are on my leadership team; always selecting people that I think are better than me, and then compelling them to achieve even more than they think they're capable of."

Carter on picking the right people to lead

"I tell people this all the time, I pick my leaders in terms of leaders of other people, like I would pick the babysitters for my grandchildren. People that have empathy, people that care, people that are going to develop other people."

Carter on why communication is so important in the workplace

"Relationships [are] key, and telling people what they need to hear versus what they want to hear. Clarity is kind, Brene Brown says it all the time, 'clarity is kind.' Being able to cast a compelling vision, and then motivate people to charge the hill is important. But I think what it all comes down to is not only empathy, but authenticity.

"Are you willing to be vulnerable? Are you willing to share with people your mistakes? Are you willing to say you're sorry? Are you really willing to actively listen?"

Carter on being mindful of people's at-home circumstances

"Leadership is the most important thing that I do, and it's individual. Mama would say that the way she raised [Carla] is different than Carol, then is different than me — we all needed something different. It's the same with people and I think we have to remember that people come to work with a whole bunch of stuff, a whole lot of things. Did they have an argument with their partner before they arrived? Did the dog die over the weekend? Are they dealing with a child with mental illness? They bring all of that with them to work.

"As leaders, it's important for us to spend the time [to] get to know the folks that are on our team, not be therapists, but be able to point them in the right direction where there are resources and help that is available. And I love that part of my job. I feel like it is a God-ordained assignment to be in a position where we have more than 35,000 colleagues around the world and every day, I'm looking for someone that I can help."

Wichita-native Karen S. Carter is business president for Packaging and Specialty Plastics at Dow in Midland, Michigan. She has been with the company for nearly 30 years.

Carla Eckels is Director of Organizational Culture at KMUW. She produces and hosts the R&B and gospel show Soulsations and brings stories of race and culture to The Range with the monthly segment In the Mix. Carla was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum's Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2020 for her work in broadcast/journalism.