LEADERSHIP: OPPORTUNITIES, CHALLENGES, AND RESPONSIBILITY
Lady Dhyana Ziegler, DCJ, Ph.D.
Many are called and few are chosen! I guess that’s how my journey began. I don’t remember ever thinking about leadership positions. Yet, leadership found me even when I wasn’t looking for it. I’m the youngest of four siblings (two deceased) so as a child I always had to follow their lead. Most of the time, they did not want to be bothered with me since I was four to six years younger. Therefore, they were always the leaders and I was the follower. But somehow intrinsically, I learned about leadership from watching them or following them. In fact, I didn’t talk much as a child until my teenage years and wrote everyone letters because I could never win arguments etc. with my siblings because I was the little sister. However, as I got older, I found my voice and used it. So when my opportunity came to lead, I had the ability, nerve, and the drive to succeed.
Opportunities knock once and sometimes twice. I have been blessed in my life to have many opportunities come my way. I may not have known at the time or seized every moment especially in my youth but I am a dreamer and believed my life would be centered on making a difference in this world. I was never a person motivated by money. If so, my path may have unfolded differently although there is nothing wrong with making money. But I have always wanted my life to have meaning. For example, growing up in a musical family, I thought I would help save the world through music, song writing, and performance. This seemed like the right path for me since my father was the lead singer of the Morning Doves Gospel Quartet and my sister Patricia married William Guest of Gladys Knight and the Pips. During my early career, I spent a few years in advertising as a copywriter/producer and in the music industry as a song writer/producer and even wrote and produced a number one disco song in 1975 entitled “Time Moves On” by a group named Strutt. I had two singing groups with musicians and I played the guitar. But fate had other plans for me although writing still played a major role in my career. Thanks to my ability to write, I was able to get scholarships and fellowships to attend undergraduate and graduate school. I never had to pay tuition. This blessing afforded me the opportunity to earn my Ph.D. While earning a doctorate degree was not on my radar, sometimes destiny has other plans for you and spiritual timing takes center stage. So when opportunity knocks, answer the call. It may prove to be fruitful and you’ll be in a position to create opportunities for others.
I’ve had a successful career in higher education as a professor, administrator, holder of an endowed chair, leadership in several professional organizations, and a seven-time political appointee. Sometimes a “calling” is an inescapable obligation. Yet fulfilling your destiny can be uplifting. Just surrender, release, and accept your assignment because you will be in a position to open doors and create opportunities for others. I realized years ago that it was my destiny to serve in many capacities and impact mass consciousness through my work regardless of what role I was playing at any given place and time.
Leadership is not an easy pathway. Climbing the ladder to success can be steep and difficult. Women can face many challenges in leadership because it’s still not a level playing field in many careers. In many cases women are held to different standards and under much more scrutiny than our male counterparts. Nonetheless, we just have to plow through these challenges. It’s nice to have mentors along the way for encouragement and to lend support because sometimes the people you are leading are the least supportive even though they are the benefactors of your hard work and successful initiatives. And in many cases, the detractors are other women. Nonetheless, we must maintain our professionalism in the face of adversity. The truth is we are not always loved in our positions of leadership although we sometimes work twice as hard for the good of the order. At the end of the day, I’ve always just wanted to leave a positive trail behind me and know that I left things better than when I arrived. No one may ever tell you that you did a great job or had a significant impact on his or her life so you just have to know you did the best job you could do so you can live with yourself.
I admit I was a little naïve and thought my achievements would be celebrated but I soon learned this is not always true. Your family may be happy for you and some really good friends but even your friends are not always happy for you. “Haters are for real.” I learned that lesson again and again. I experienced one of life’s lessons in 2008 after I was knighted as a Dame of Justice in England. I’d already received so many honors, awards, and recognitions in my career but this global recognition I considered was the pinnacle of a successful career especially being an African American woman. In fact, I had to grow into the position of being a Knighted Dame especially when there can only be a few hundred Knights and Dames worldwide in the Order of the Knights of Justice at any given time. So this is a real honor although many ignored the recognition. I can make the excuse that Knighthood is not the African American experience, however, it was the culmination of a lifetime of achievement and a testament of my global contribution to education that was recognized outside of the United States. For the first couple of years I didn’t really use the title or speak about it too much. But other ethnic groups were ecstatic at the recognition and I eventually grew into the role and accepted my achievement because there are few Knighted people in the U.S. of any race or ethnicity. This is not bragging but a moment in history to celebrate to let other people of color know that they may also be able to achieve this status one day. So now I use my position and title with pride. It is extremely important to represent regardless of receiving credit or recognition.
Being in a position of leadership carries with it a certain amount of responsibility. You are always under the microscope. You have to make good decisions and your greatest power is to make good choices from the people you hire to those you let into your personal space. The detractors are always waiting for you to trip up and make mistakes. And you will make mistakes. But you must own them and put corrective actions in place immediately. You have to take responsibility for your actions and face the consequences. I believe you gain more respect for being open, honest, and human. Although people sometime think I am a superwoman with a cape around my shoulders because of what I’ve accomplished. However, I am definitely not a superwoman and I don’t try to be one.
At this stage in my life, leadership is taking on a different meaning. I feel a responsibility to open doors for others and try to leave an imprint and positive impact on social change in all endeavors. Leadership is a commitment to service for me. I don’t need another notch on the belt of my career because I’ve had a wonderful career. I just want to give back and show others how to leave their footprints in the sand. For me, it’s about giving back. I often tell my students that I’m not doing all the things I do for me but for them to know that all things are possible with the proper preparation and faith. I have been blessed and I have so much faith in the next generation and what they will contribute to this world. For me, it has been my faith in God that has led the way for my success even when I had blinders on my eyes!
We serve because we have to serve. We lead because we’re called to lead. And we stand up because we have to stand up. It’s important for our lives to matter for the next generation who will follow our lead. I know many of you feel the same way I do and have had some of the same experiences. This is my testimony because I am just one of you! Let’s stay strong, keep the faith, and lead the way.