By Katy Macek
Leslie Petty may be an assistant dean at the UW-Madison School of Business, but her reach and responsibilities extend much further than the institution.
Petty oversees their three MBA programs, as well as all student services (from orientation to graduation), technology operations management, career services and admissions in the School of Business.
How does she handle it all? It begins and ends with motivation — for herself and the various teams she oversees.“You have to have a collective vision of goals and objectives; that is key,” Petty says. “And I do believe you must be mission-driven.”
And her team’s mission is also her motivation: providing a holistic education experience to students. That’s the back- bone of the departments she oversees.
“What drives me to come to work every day and be a part of this [university] are my students,” she says. “I understand the power of education, and how it advances the economic development in our community.”
She credits her upbringing to her strong, single mother raising herself and her four brothers in the inner city of West Philadelphia as one of her main influences. Her childhood gave her an “unwavering sense of self-belief and can- do spirit,” she says, which has been vital to her success.
Seeing the lifestyle of those around her in West Philadelphia made Petty realize it wasn’t what she wanted for her own family. So she worked her way up, becoming the highest-ranking Black female administrator at the School of Business, and the first to hold that title.
“I wanted to be in a position where I could pay it forward,” she says. “That’s why I do what I do — to make a difference in the lives of youth in our community.”
She instills that motivation in the hearts of her whole team by creating a culture that is constantly fueled by their mission to provide quality education.
Motivating others, she says, starts with living the mission yourself.
“We have to have a collective agreement,” Petty says. “They have to see me do it, they have to see my boss do it. It has to be that lived experience.”
Part of that is also being what Petty calls a “servant leader.” She allows her staff to feel empowered to lead in the areas they have expertise in, while she supports them.
“I do not lead by having followers behind me,” she says. “I lead by standing behind the talent, the skills, the folks who are experts in their area. I work behind my team.”
She also thinks it’s important to be an authentic leader, which instills credibility. For Petty, that means “what you see is what you get.” She chooses to lead in a way that allows her colleagues to get to know the real her, which she thinks allows them to open up and thrive as their best selves, too.
She motivates her team by empowering them with the tools and resources they need to succeed in their mission, which includes professional and personal development trainings that she also partakes in. However, Petty says the most important tool to motivating a team is creating a support system and a culture where it is OK to fail.
“I give permission to take risks,” she says. “It is so important to know that successful people fail in life, and when that happens, we grow from it.”
Are there habits you’ve created to streamline your day or better manage your time?
“To manage the demands of work, family and community service, I will build in a five- minute mindfulness meditation throughout the day. This practice helps me reach a level of peak performance in my work.”
What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
“Trust yourself, don’t base your worth on someone else, and take risks.”
– Leslie Petty