Profiles in Leadership: Black History Month 2021
At Benton + Bradford Consulting, understanding what is required to be a successful leader is an essential aspect of the work we do with our clients. Our managing partner Richard A. Smith, a Black entrepreneur, executive coach and HR consultant, celebrates Black History Month with three profiles of individuals who have influenced his definition of great leadership.
Mary McLeod Bethune
The daughter of former slaves, Mary Jane McLeod Bethune became one of the most important black educators, civil and women’s rights leaders and government officials of the 20th century. As the founder of Bethune College (ultimately merged with Cookman Institute to form Bethune-Cookman University) she set educational standards for today’s black colleges. She served as an advisor to five U.S. Presidents, advocating for African Americans to ensure the right to education and freedom from discrimination. As a champion of racial and gender equality, she founded organizations to influence policy and helped mobilize women to vote after it became legal, putting herself at risk of racist attacks. Among her many roles, she served as vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP) for 15 years. While she counseled presidents and had access to America’s elite, she remained accessible to citizens and college students alike, serving as a mentor and guide to ensure their voices were heard.
She persevered through a time when black female leadership was not respected and often rejected, but through her vision of social justice and positive change for all, she blazed a trail for others to follow. Leadership often goes where others fear to tread. Benton + Bradford Consulting honors her contributions.
In his roles as Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) of AutoNation and, previously, Cox Automotive, Rock Anderson has direct human resources policies and programs for multi-billion dollar public and private companies, as well as nonprofit organizations, serving more than 35,000 associates. He was recognized as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Blacks in Corporate America by Savoy Magazine and is a national innovator and influencer in HR practices. When I am asked what traits are essential to successful leadership, these traits come to mind: self-aware, able to deliver and receive candid feedback, a clear communicator and a desire to be the best, not for personal gain, but to help others succeed. Rock Anderson embodies them all. His work enables employees to gain clarity around their purpose and expectations for their work, and how their performance will be evaluated. These are essential to employees’ sense of belonging in their workplace and understanding of their role within their organizations. For Black History Month Benton + Bradford Consulting honors Rock Anderson.
Sometimes leadership comes from an unlikely place. This is Mildred A. Smith, mother of B+B Consulting’s managing partner Richard A. Smith. She was empathetic, able to give and receive feedback and possessed quiet determination. With a wicked sense of humor, she navigated uncharted waters with purpose and vision. As the first college graduate (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University – FAMU) in her family, she led by example, showing what could be done by doing it herself. She was firm yet compassionate, supportive of those around her, always focused on a goal, or North star, as her guide and never took herself or her work too seriously. These are all traits that are frequently in short supply, but leaders and their direct reports greatly benefit from developing these skills. For Black History Month, Benton + Bradford Consulting honors Mildred A. Smith.
Leadership is the ability to inspire others to achieve high levels of performance and good leaders do it with consistency. My cousin Shelia has been able to do that with the Jean Ribault High School girls’ basketball team in Jacksonville, Fla. Her ability to coach, guide and mentor is unparalleled. During her 13 years as a coach, Shelia has won 11 Florida Athletic Coaches Association (FACA) Coach of the Year Awards and her team secured four state championships (2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017) with an undefeated season in 2013 (31-0).
“Coach Shelia,” as she is affectionately known by her players, ended her final season before retiring in 2017 with a coaching record of 319-63. She helped build one of the best girls’ basketball programs in the nation, fueled by passion to see her players succeed and instilling in them the obligation to do their best for their team.
She is a graduate of Edward Waters College (HBCU) and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She is currently a second-year leadership teacher at Edward H. White High School. Benton + Bradford Consulting honors Shelia Seymour for Black History Month.
Does your leadership style set an example for others? Let’s talk about your journey.