By Tracie Issac –
How are leaders made? The Minority Reporter spoke with Superintendent of Brockport Central Schools Dr. Lesli C. Myers, a leader whose journey to success has held a few unique firsts, to answer that question. Dr. Myers is the first African-American woman to have been named Superintendent of Schools in Monroe County, and she’s served in the role since 2012. Myers has also recently authored her first book, titled “Life’s Leadership Lessons,” with a foreword written by Garth Fagan, the founder and artistic director of the internationally-acclaimed Garth Fagan Dance in Rochester.
She received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and a master’s degree in Counseling and Human Development from the University of Rochester (UofR); and has also earned a master’s degree in Urban Educational Administration, and her Doctorate of Education in Executive Leadership, from St. John Fisher College.
Minority Reporter: What was the process to achieve your role as an administrator, and how did you come up with the title for your book?
Dr. Myers: I am in my twenty-fifth year as a public school educator, beginning my career as a high school counselor in the Rochester City School District. I describe my career as “accidentally on purpose.” I never intended to be an administrator or superintendent. I loved working on the front line with kids. But, because I had a lot of supportive mentors, and great supervisors, I kind of got shaped and molded into that direction. Six years ago, I became the first superintendent in Brockport of color, and the first woman of color to be appointed permanently to the superintendency. That is how I came up with the title for my book, because it has been an interesting leadership journey.
Minority Reporter: What is your book about?
Dr. Myers: The book is based on personal and professional experiences that I have had. I am very transparent in the book. I share times that I was successful, and times that I was not. It is sort of like “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” remember that? It is sort of like story-telling. My grandmother was Native American, and she used to tell us a ton of stories. She had over 50 grandchildren, and so I would like to think that I was at least one of her favorites because she spent a lot of time with me. So, this book is dedicated to my maternal grandmother, Mrs. Addie Terry Mills. The book is divided into 31 leadership lessons. Basically, I wrote it in mind of reading one lesson a day. It takes about 30-days for things to become habit, so I wrote it with that kind of format.
Minority Reporter: In regards to leadership, what would today’s Lesli tell a younger Lesli about preparing for leadership?
Dr. Myers: That question is actually one of my leadership lessons. I wrote a letter to my younger self, lesson #19 on page 39. In it, I talk about the fact that I was working in the Greece Central School district at the time. I had a really great job, and was doing really great work, but my father died during that time, and it was very difficult for me. I am trained and have a master’s degree in school counseling, and have led really traumatic grief efforts in my community – I have led people through the 911 attack efforts and other difficult issues – but I was surprised to find that I could not help myself.
So, in the letter, I talk about the fact that, if I could talk to myself about that time I would say, you know what, you need to go get help, quickly. Which, I eventually did do. You have to focus on the fact that you have some good things going on in your life. That is what I really want leaders to understand, that you will have bumps in the road, hard times that are frustrating and overwhelming, that may even paralyze you physically or emotionally. But you have got to get back up and brush yourself off.
Minority Reporter: I often hear that in academic and corporate board arenas it is difficult to find men or women of color, what is your take on that?
Dr. Myers: I would say yes and no. I think part of the problem is that we, as individuals of color, have to step outside of our comfort zone, and sometimes we can limit that exposure. I also know that, on the flip side, that sometimes there are limitations placed on us. People will sometimes do a visual scan of a person of color. That is why I was so grateful to my dad, who has been gone now for 15 years. Many years ago, when I was small, he said to me, “Lesli you are going to have to apply the $6 million dollar man principle.” Now, I know that will date myself, because there are people who may not know who the “$6 Million Dollar Man” was or who the “Bionic Woman” was, but the statement was, “You have to be better, stronger and faster.”
As a little one, I didn’t understand then, but I get that now. He said, “I am preparing you for a world that I will never see.”
When you are seven, ten, or even 16 years old, you don’t quite get that idea. My dad would expose me and my sister to not only Jazz or R&B music, but he exposed us to classical music, and quizzed us by asking what piece of music is this, on an 8–track.
Again, the 8-track dates me, but he would quiz us, and we would have to be able to name the types of symphonies or identify different musicals. He said that we were going to be in a position at cocktail parties, and we couldn’t speak one-dimensionally.
He said, “I am preparing you Les, for a world that I am not even going to see.”
I didn’t even know how poignant and real that statement was to me. He worked at making sure that we were versatile, and that we could be really comfortable talking to people of different backgrounds. Our parents did a lot of entertaining at our home. We would get to hang out for a little while when my parents hosted gatherings, or cocktail parties at our house. This was called “exposure,” so that we could mix and mingle, and talk with different kinds of people. We were having college-level conversations as early as eight and nine years old. What was ingrained in my sister and I was, not “do you want to go to college” but “which type of college would you like to go to, an HBCU, predominantly white college, in-state or out-of-state.” Both my mom and dad were very good at helping us to be not only competitive, but to really have that edge. I am forever grateful for that.
Minority Reporter: What do you think we need to add to our school systems to help our children who may not have parents that can provide diverse exposure in the home?
Dr. Myers: The approach that I take as an educator is that I recognize that not all children have the benefit of having both of the parents in the home, and/or having parents who know how to navigate the world as my parents did, so I just truly believe, as a public school educator, I have the moral and ethical responsibility to do the work with my principals and other educators in our system to figure out what are those types of programs that are going to create and provide leadership opportunities for our kids, as young as elementary school. I was thinking about a wonderful initiative that we are involved with called “Roc2Change,” which is currently at the high school level. We are trying to identify how to move it down to the middle school, minimally. …This program encourages young people to tackle the issues of racism, classism, and social justice.
Minority Reporter: How did you get to the point of publishing your book?
Dr. Myers: I didn’t start out to write a book. After completing my dissertation 10 years ago, I was like “whew,” I am done with that. Two hundred pages later, I sort of wrote a book, and tucked things away. I started dabbling on Facebook, and every once in a while I would write what I call an LCM Leadership Lesson. Every time the spirit would hit me, I would get inspired by something I saw, had read, or an experience that occurred, and I would write about the lesson I learned. After about six or seven lessons, people started telling me that I really needed to put these lessons in a book. I was like, “No, I am good.” Reaching about the fourteenth lesson, two or three really poignant things happened. Someone was leaving, and said, “You really need to put these lessons in a book.” Then, a woman reached out to me, whom I didn’t know but connected to me on LinkedIn, contacted me and said, “Dr. Myers I am in the DMV (DC, MD, VA) area. Please keep these leadership lessons coming. Every time you write a lesson, I send them out all across the country to encourage people. I mentor several hundred assistant principals and principals.” I thought okay, that’s cool. Then a third person who ended up being my publisher let me know that she was getting these calls about my publishing. She said, “Why don’t you talk to me about publishing your book?” I thought, if I don’t do this now, I am never going to do it. So, we had this conversation like on a Thursday or Friday, and I made an appointment for that Monday back in November, and we didn’t look back. It felt perfect, and I was so excited. I started just before Thanksgiving.
In December, I was in a car accident, but I didn’t let that detour me. I kept going, and by Jan. 1, I submitted the first full draft. So, the first half took me over a couple of years, because I wrote them when I felt like it. The last 16 lessons took me about two months.
(Contact Dr. Myers, at email@example.com, for additional information regarding “Life’s Leadership Lessons,” or to find out how to obtain a copy of her book.)
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