If you’re old enough to remember September 11, 2001, then you know exactly where you were and what you were doing when the four plane hijacking led to one of America’s most tragic moments.
For Louis Carter, a then-grad school student in his late 20s, his memory of that day was waking up in an off-campus apartment on the West Side of Manhattan. He forgot to set his alarm and woke up at 9:11 a.m., first confused and then unsettled when he found out what had just happened to three of the four planes.
“So, I did what any red-blooded American would do,” Carter said. “I started a drum circle.”
Now while this resolution may sound like it’s out of left field for the vast majority of us, Carter had been playing drums since he was 8 years old. He has also been in eight bands, including his band at the time: Big Toe. For him, this form of music therapy was both a spiritual and calming way for people to get their emotions out.
“I combined drumming with my knowledge of Social Organizational Psychology,” Carter said. “And it enabled the Columbia University community, the larger New York Community and the folks who were doing drum circles in Central Park to come to a safe space. Many had lost their loved ones. They could’ve chosen to flee; to fight; or to go through the Kübler-Ross process of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.”
In a year’s time, they did all of the above while expressing themselves through pulsating rhythms.
From music to money
Carter is a fixer. And making a bit of “noise” is his style, literally. The musician and four-time author* also self-describes himself as a radical. And he has a sense of humor about it all.
“You know what they call a drummer without a girlfriend?” he asked. “Broke.”
While Carter was trying to “fix” the mental health of others, he realized he had to take care of himself too. He’d worked for the investment company PaineWebber & Co. but knew he didn’t want to be a stockbroker. However, bills had to be paid.
So, he reached out to one of the people he wrote about in his first four books: Joe Bonito, who at the time was the Vice President of Pfizer, to ask him if he could be hired as the head person for Pfizer’s Leadership Development team.
Bonito laughed out loud and turned him down flat, speculating that Carter was too much of a “heretic.” Bonito knew that Carter would fixate on changing the entire culture of the company instead of trying to fit in to corporate norms.
But instead of Carter being discouraged, he had a heart-to-heart with himself to figure out what would professionally make him happy. The idea of a 9-to-5 and traditional workplace just didn’t sit well with him. So, he found a way to make money to the beat of his own drum.
From denial to bargaining to acceptance
“I got into Social Organizational Psychology for personal reasons,” he said. “I had a best friend who committed suicide. I’ve seen people go through depression. I’ve gone through a lot of difficult times with people. And I saw how things could go really wrong within the medical industry and with their own families. Studying dissatisfaction to eliminate it is top priority for me.”
At the age of 46, he is now the CEO and President of Best Practice Institute, an association and management consulting firm that helps organizations and C-suite senior executives with business strategies. The techniques from BPI help better their company and employee satisfaction and market strength.
Skipping past the traditional annual evaluations in which upper management tells employees what they’re doing and how to fit into the company, his company trains them in how to use SkillRater, an employer tool that gives anytime-feedback. Carter is also the creator of Spapper, a leadership tool that helps improve companies, so their performance ratings are higher.
“There are so many companies, whether it’s hospitals, retail or traditional office jobs, where you already have enough people who try to fit into a company’s culture. I want people to start challenging themselves in their own lives. What skills do you have that you want to improve on? What makes you special to your companies? Are you happy assimilating into the type of employee that your employer wants you to be? Or, do you want to be more of who you naturally are and who you want to be?”
In Carter’s case, this is what makes him better professionally. In his own moments of discomfort, whether national catastrophes or personal misfortunes, he continues to find ways to figure out how he can be his own best self while helping others too.
For more information on him, visit LouisCarter.com.
* As of the date of publication, he has written 11 books.
** Other founding members include Joe Bonito (now working at Bank of America); Brian Fishel (now the CHRO of KeyBank); Nilou Sardari (formerly from Volvo); Linda Sharkey (formerly from GE); and Lou Manzi (formerly SVP of Talent at GSK).