What impact did HBS have on your life and the life of others?
Growing up as a military dependent, I had lived on three different continents by the age of 18. Years later, HBS taught me to embrace global perspectives and gave me the confidence to create a portfolio career encompassing several different areas of interest. I gained confidence to take a road less travelled by most HBS graduates, becoming the first and only African American fellow with the Oxford Leadership Academy. With this certification, my Executive MBA, and earning my PMD from Harvard, I believed that I could conquer anything, taking on the roles of entrepreneur and chief learning officer in corporate and academic leadership roles. This confidence gave focus to my innovative bent, and I strived to use that quality to my advantage and to the advantage of those companies and clients with whom I worked.
Three Harvard graduates influenced my decision to attend HBS. I had the good fortune of working for one of the first African American graduates of HBS, H. Naylor Fitzhugh (MBA 1933), while completing my graduate thesis under his tutelage at Pepsico, where he served as executive vice president of marketing. His words echo in my mind that one day I, too, would follow in his footsteps and walk proudly through the doors of his alma mater.
Naylor's inspiration was subsequently reinforced when I worked with Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr. (DBA 1974), an HBS faculty member who was also the founder and president of the American Institute for Managing Diversity long before diversity was fully understood in the United States. Developing mastery in organization development from these two icons was my inspiration to attend HBS, launch a career in diversity and inclusion, and expand my efforts as an executive coach and consultant.
Dr. Jeff Howard was my third inspiration. As founder and president of the Efficacy Institute, his works Efficacy for Women and Efficacy for African American Leaders were pivotal for me as a student and then as a lead trainer in US corporations.
In each of these experiences of being mentored by three African American scholars, I learned about the impacts of racism, sexism, and internalized oppression; developed the tools to negotiate race, gender, and power in organizations; and acquired resilience and resolve toward overcoming organizational barriers. I also experienced the privilege of the HBS brand serving as my personal GPS for success.
I am not certain that attending HBS gave me any additional skills that I didn't already have through my prior Executive MBA. What I do know to be true is that I learned how to look at an organization more strategically, not only from the perspective of finance, marketing, and operations, but also through its alignment with culture, strategy, and people. After graduating, you will need to continue your executive development to truly reach your fullest potential as a leader. As an executive coach to HBS alumni across all industries, my advice to HBS women graduates is that learning and growing must continue beyond graduation. What will distinguish you as a leader and set you apart is a healthy dose of 360-degree feedback, a strong sense of your personal and organizational blind spots, and knowledge of possible derailers that may impede your success over time.
"Where attention goes, energy flows, and where energy flows, life grows." Remember to give your singular attention to defining your purpose, your values, and your vision, as together these three will inform your internal compass and will be pivotal in making tough decisions. Tidy up clutter in your mind, body, and spirit and create a NOT to-do list to enable yourself to truly focus as a leader. "Who you are is how you lead," so know deeply who you really are as a leader in your field. Ask yourself often, "What am I pretending not to know?" and anchor your leadership journey by remembering the giants who paved the way before you. Become a good storyteller by giving voice and volume to your narrative. And most of all, elevate your status to CEO of your own experience while remaining authentic and congruent with your own values. You can't go wrong with these building blocks after Harvard.