Patience, Vision, Compassion, Ability to Execute a Vision, and Awareness of Skills Needed in a Team.

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 Menah Pratt.

Menah Pratt JD. PhD. is the Vice President for Strategic Affairs and Diversity at Virginia Tech. She is also a Professor of Education in the School of Education in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, with affiliations in African Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, and the Department of Sociology. She has almost 25 years of leadership experience in higher education, with a focus on large-scale institutional transformation.

Her research and scholarship focus on diversity issues in higher education. Her education includes five degrees B.A., M.A., University of Iowa; M.A., PhD., J.D., Vanderbilt University. In 2018, A Black Woman’s Journey from Cotton Picking to College Professor: Lessons about Race, gender, and Class in America was awarded the American Education Studies Association Critics’ Choice Award for a scholarship deemed to be outstanding in its field.

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 am the founder of the Faculty Women of Color in the Academy National Conference (FWCA), now in its 11th year, which brings together almost 600 women of color annually to connect, support, and be empowered. We just finished our conference in April in DC. I am now getting ready for the Black College Institute (BCI), which I also founded. Hosted at Virginia Tech every June, BCI brings together almost 600 intellectually curious and high-achieving students interested in the African American experience for a three-week summer leadership program. I am focused on building a Corporate Diversity Partners Program at Virginia Tech around these two amazing initiatives.

We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?

Mary McLeod Bethune has influenced me the most. She founded Bethune College, (later Bethune Cookman University) in 1904, with just five little girls. When I was seven years old, I read her autobiography as a 2nd grader and decided I wanted to be like her and support Black women and girls achieve an education. My life has been dedicated to advancing the educational opportunities and experiences of marginalized populations, especially women of color.

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?

The biggest mistake I made as a leader was trying to implement a new software system at a university by only consulting senior leaders, and failing to engage the middle management team. I learned that everyone in an organization has value and it is particularly important to engage IT professionals, HR professionals, business professionals, communications professionals, and administrative assistants when leading change.

How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?

As a younger leader, I thought I was basically the boss of everyone! As I have learned over time that leadership is a careful, systematic, and strategic cultivation of relationships to articulate and advance shared visions through clearly defined goals, objectives, and timelines.

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 have tried to stop carrying bad experiences, particularly of racism and sexism, into my home from my job. I realize that the offender was probably not thinking about or talking about me in their home and so it was not healthy for me to continue to think about them, in my own sacred space. I try to shake it off and leave it outside my door.

What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?

Trusting my intuition and being able to hear the soft small voice reminding me of what is important, a forgotten email, a person to check on, perhaps an overlooked and undervalued colleague, and to be obedient to that gentle tug and follow up.

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?

Take a vacation and go to the ocean or mountains and release to the universe what no longer serves its purpose and receive from the universe a new way of being in the world.

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?

Take time to do an archaeological and anthropological “dig” to learn the values, the people, the policy, the practices, the allies, the advocates, and the antagonists in your new role. Go to coffee, tea, and lunches with as many people as possible, with 30 minutes to one hour meetings. Take good notes afterward, and decide who you need to keep close and why. It is important to continue to cultivate the most meaningful and impactful relationships, even with those who seem antagonistic to your leadership.

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.

Patience, Vision, Compassion, Ability to Execute a Vision, and Awareness of Skills Needed in a Team.

Change doesn’t happen quickly and impatience frustrates a leader and a team, and my phrase is “Patience has never disappointed me.” 2) It is essential to have a vision otherwise you do not know where you are going or why. 3) Teams are created by individuals and individuals have lives outside of work. The biggest gift you can offer your team is compassion, and it will be available to you as well. 4) Without execution, there are only ideas, so implementation and execution of a vision is essential. It is how visions become manifested. 5) When team members have skill sets and experiences that complement each other, the team is more efficient and effective in executing and accomplishing the vision.

American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.

Answer: For me, that quote is a very high bar…to make each day a “masterpiece.” My son, Emmanuel Pratt-Clarke, is an artist and painter. I know what it takes to create a masterpiece. I don’t want that pressure for each day. My phrase would be closer to, “Just be.” It is a reminder to be open, to go with the flow, to see what the day will offer, and to be flexible and fluid, knowing that I will be doing my best to reflect and radiate love, care, and compassion.

What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?

Answer: The legacy I hope to aspire to leave is through the signature programs I founded to advance diversity (BCI and FWCA) and through my writing and scholarship about issues of race, class, and gender. In addition to a biography on my mother’s journey from the cotton fields to the classroom, “A Black Woman’s Journey from Cotton Picking to College Professor: Lessons about Race, Class, and Gender in America,” I am writing my own autobiography based on 45 years of journals: Blackwildgirl: A Writer’s Journey to Take Back Her Superpower, due out in April 2024.

How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?

Answer: Find me on my website at or on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter as Menah Pratt, and Instagram as menahprattclarke.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!