The question I ask myself constantly as a leader is, What legacy will I leave?
Right after college, during my two years as a Teach For America corps member teaching 6th grade, I learned important leadership principles. Now reflecting on my 16-year career, most of which has been spent starting up and expanding high-performing teams, I still operate with these leadership principles. I’ve also had the good fortune of having amazing managers who’ve taught me invaluable lessons and skills that have built my confidence, particularly at adverse times.
Early in my career, I made the decision to decline offers at highly competitive law schools to follow my heart and stay in what many consider a far less prestigious career. I was asked to assume the leadership of an unstable nonprofit, whose mission I deeply believed in, given the potential it had to put children growing up in low income communities on a college trajectory. People wondered if it was possible for anyone, especially a 23-year-old novice manager and leader, to put this organization on a path to fiscal sustainability and high quality programming. Failure, in my mind, wasn’t an option. I knew this program had to thrive.
Immediately, I realized I needed to develop a bold vision for the organization that was tied to ambitious yet realistic goals. Hiring and building an outstanding team had to happen quickly. Investing the team in the goals, planning purposefully, executing flawlessly, and tracking our progress was imperative. There was also no short cutting, as I was relentlessly working hard to ensure increased effectiveness (while having fun in the process), and constantly taking time to reflect alone and with the team in order to listen, learn, continuously improve, strategize, and rejuvenate for the challenges ahead.
My drive comes from my knowledge that children growing up in low income communities can achieve academically at the highest of levels when given the opportunities they deserve. Ninety percent of the children our corps members teach are African American, Latino or Hispanic. Poverty and race shouldn’t determine destiny. This is a civil rights issue; failure isn’t an option.
And so I wake up every day passionate about ensuring that we are creating systematic ways to attract, engage, develop, and retain extraordinary, diverse talent for our organization and other educational organizations. For the next generation of young women leaders, I encourage you to ponder the question, what legacy will you leave?