Effective leaders need to be reflective, team players, excellent at delegating, attentive listeners, and effective communicators.
We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Angela Shanté Johnson.
Angela Shanté Johnson is an award-winning author, multi-hyphenate creative, and fierce advocate for diversity & inclusion in education and in the arts. With almost 20 years of experience in education and advocacy work, Angela is focused on using her voice and platform to support, highlight, and make space for marginalized creatives in publishing and in the arts. Angela is currently the CEO of Angela Johnson & Co. and Sunday Dinner Publishing.
Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?
I’m always excited about the work I am doing. At the moment I am (happily) working with independent publishers around the country with diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. As a writer, I am currently writing my debut YA book which was just purchased by Page Street Publishing. And as a business owner, I am building my companies slowly and with purpose. I’m excited by it all!
We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?
I am inspired by creative leaders like Issa Rae and Quinta Brunson, two Black creative entrepreneurs devoted to making space for underrepresented voices and storytellers. In publishing, Carrie Bloxson and Rebekah Borucki are doing amazing work in redefining leadership and charting new ways of making publishing more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?
As a leader I wear many hats. Sometimes juggling so many balls becomes chaotic and I forget to pivot between roles. But I learn quickly that I can not show up at creative meetings as the boss. As a former teacher I use these ‘mistakes’ as learning opportunities. And it helps that I work with a dope group of people who will check me when need be. lol. Being able to wear multiple hats and adjust to each role hasn’t always come easy to me, but everyday I am learning and growing (as any good leader should).
How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?
My definition of leadership has changed overtime because of the work that I do. Working in DEIB spaces means I need to be reflective, I need to be intentional, and I need to lead by example. But working in executive leadership and coaching has shown me that theory and practice have to be aligned. Deciding to be an anti-rascist leader, or a more inclusive company means putting procedures into place to support the work beyond mission statements. To be a leader, now, means modeling effective leadership. I think good leaders talk the talk and walk the walk; disrupting, bucking the system, and being transparent, strategic and meaningful in the process.
Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?
I think not starting toxic legacy leadership behavior is how we should all start. Simple gestures like only communicating with my team during business hours, and acknowledging cultural holidays is a small way I show respect. Larger things like having equitable/inclusive business practices has been the most valuable shift for the teams I manage. I’ve learned that a lot of the boxes we uphold in spaces of leadership are harmful to marginalized people. So when I am in a space, leading a space, or making space, I make sure to be intentional in what is of value.
What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?
I like setting community guidelines and cultural norms when working with new teams. This is something I do with DEI clients and when I work with my own teams. I think community guidelines help set boundaries when discussing sensitive topics and can serve as a way to get new teams aquated. Additionally, identifying cultural norms helps everyone name something they need to feel safe in space.
What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?
I would challenge them to really do the work. Ask the hard questions, and seek new playbooks. We are living in changing times, good leaders know how to map new/changing landscapes and pivot/learn/grow with/from the times.
Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?
Be human. Leaders are no good without people/a team. And no one likes to work for a dehumanizing leader. In an ever-shifting landscape, make sure to communicate and be transparent. And, lead with grace. We are all out here doing the best we can with what we got.
Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.
In my opinion, effective leaders need to be reflective, team players, excellent at delegating, attentive listeners, and effective communicators.
American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.
Masterpieces are made only after hours and hours of work. Each day, each paint stroke adds to it. I think of this quote that way. I try to live my life that way as well.
What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?
As a leader I aspire to leave a legacy of change. Change and growth are at the center of my creative, advocacy, and leadership work.
How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?
Partnership, interviews, and business inquiries please email [email protected]
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Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.