I was a model high school student, daughter of two doctors, with a 4.0 GPA and my life planned. My well-laid plans became derailed and set me on a course that tested my faith, perseverance, financial, and emotional resources.
I dropped out of college one semester shy of a bachelor’s degree at age eighteen, married, had children, and became a domestic violence survivor. After years of turmoil, a hostile divorce, single motherhood, and recovery from emotional and physical abuse, I completed my bachelor’s and my MBA online. Once a Presidential Scholar with offers from Harvard and other Ivy League schools, I ultimately finished my degrees at University of Phoenix online. This is not what I envisioned, but a powerful lesson for my children—finish what you start and don’t let unfortunate circumstances serve as an excuse to quit. I started my company so I could be home for my kids when they were home and study at night when they slept. I am currently working on my doctoral dissertation, happily remarried, and my business is thriving and making the world a safer, more equitable place.
Leadership is not just about intelligence, planning, and performance. I believe it’s easier to make good choices when life is going well. When you are the beneficiary of elements of privilege, as I was, obstacles are minimized. It’s when life is difficult that your mettle is tested. It’s not what happens to you—it’s how you handle the challenges in your life that define your character. My leadership style is grounded in the notion that we learn more when we fail than when we succeed. I encourage my teams to take risks, explore, and pursue their wildest dreams—even the ones that will take them away from my company if they succeed.
My leadership advice is the following:
Don’t give up the moment you encounter an obstacle. Hold fast to your dreams and work hard until you reach your destination, then set new goals.
Define your values early and often, then do your best to align your behaviors with those values.
Mind your “wake.” Henry Cloud’s book Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality says that people leave behind a legacy: a collection of choices, interactions, and experiences. Always try to do your best so people remember you well.
Has discrimination affected you as a woman in the workplace? How did you deal with it?
Overt discrimination has not been an issue for me as much as bias. People thought I was white on the phone (before Google) and they were visibly shocked to meet a black woman in person. I’ve been told that people don’t think of me as black because I do not conform to their stereotypes. I handle it by educating people and helping them see how their bias is affecting their behavior.
What advice would you give young women building/preparing for a career?
Know who you are, what you value, and know what you are not willing to compromise for success. I left several jobs because of values misalignment. I was not willing to do, say, or support behaviors and principles that conflict with my own. That is why I am a proponent of the social enterprise movement. Always lead with your values.