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El-Java Abdul-Qadir on leadership: Five traits to make you great

El-Java Abdul-Qadir says he was never afraid of working hard or wearing many different hats when he was growing up in The Bronx.

That’s still the case.

In Syracuse, Abdul-Qadir is director of the South Side Innovation Center, owner/operator and chief instructor of Excel Martial Arts Training Center on Nottingham Road, and adjunct professor at Syracuse University (where he has also been a boxing instructor). He’s also a coach of Team USA in martial arts, competes internationally, and holds world titles.

He is a seventh-degree black belt in Shotokan karate. Any others?

“I do other martial arts, and I hold the rank of black belt in Tae Kwon Do and Ju-jitsu and a couple of other styles. But my base style, my traditional style, is Shotokan karate. At Excel Martial Arts Training Center, we teach traditional karate. We teach Ju-jitsu. We teach sport martial arts, which includes different types of competitive kickboxing and point fighting and things like that.”

SSIC is a project of SU’s Whitman School of Management. It opened April 1, 2006, in a former warehouse of Dunk and Bright at 2610 S. Salina St. Since then, it has helped hundreds of aspiring business owners and businesses. It rents space and acts as a business incubator, holds classes, matches consultants to startups, and provides counseling, training, and mentoring.

Abdul-Qadir’s leadership advice draws from his martial arts experiences and from the five practices explained in the book “The Leadership Challenge.”

“Those five resonate with me so much because I can think back to my time growing up at the dojo in The Bronx or my time as senior patrol leader in our Boy Scout troop or in any of the positions that I’ve had since then …

“The five things I’d like your readers to remember are concisely: Model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart.”

What’s your advice for effective leadership?

I need to give you some background. I got my undergraduate degrees from SU in biology and psychology and I got my master’s in social work. I held several jobs as I started my Ph.D. I worked as a mental health therapist at what was called the Onondaga County Pastoral Counseling Center. I was the director of teen services at the Boys and Girls Club of Syracuse – that was actually a full-time job while I was doing the master’s degree. Post-masters, I worked for the Dunbar Association. My work at SU started about 2002 in student affairs.

Then my Ph.D. advisor retired. I had already jumped through so many hoops that I felt I couldn’t jump through another hoop for someone and start over. I left and got a position at Temple University in Philly.

At Temple, one of the things that we did was a leadership retreat for student leaders. One of the books that we used to develop the program was “The Leadership Challenge.” James Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner are the two authors.