Reverend Leah D. Daughtry was raised in Brooklyn as a constituent of Shirley Chisholm’s district and went on to become the CEO of the 2008 and 2016 Democratic National Convention Committee. In addition, Daughtry pastors the House of the Lord Church in Washington, D.C.
We had the honor of chatting with her this week about the importance of inclusive leadership in creating real change.
As the CEO to a National party’s convention, not once but twice, what type of leadership skills are necessary to deal with all the changes you face whether be it as a woman, your religion, or your race?
Leadership skills. I think one of the most important leadership skills is having the courage of your conviction which speaks to your strength. In these jobs, you have a lot of decisions to make and you have a lot of people who are making demands on you who have their own interests that they’re trying to protect. So as a leader of an organization, or company, or group, or family, you’ve got to have a very clear sense of your belief system, what you think is the right thing to do, and then have the strength to do exactly that. Also, the ability to listen closely and carefully, to seek advice, to hear what other people have to say is also a critical leadership skill when you’re in these types of organizations. I think lastly, it is really the ability to connect with people and bringing to the table your own ethos and experience, and not being swayed by environment. If you’re a strong, hard driving woman, be a strong, hard driving woman. If you prefer a softer style, be who you are. Be confident with who you are, be comfortable with who you are, and your own comfort with yourself helps other people be comfortable. Your own capacity to grow and to learn helps other people to grow and learn. Being all of who you are, accepting that, and not being afraid to put that on display helps other people to be all of who they are and that’s really the most important part of leadership – really putting people in a place where they themselves lead.
Growing up in Shirley Chisholm’s District, how did you view the state of women then?
I think I lived a sort of bifurcated life, because that was the mid to late 70’s when, in one part of my life, women were struggling and striving to be seen as equal; to work jobs that they wanted to work and have the kinds of lives that they wanted to live. So, that was the one part of my life that saw women as striving to be equal. But then there was the other part of my life which was my church life, I’m a pastor’s kid, and in our church, women were equal. We had the same titles that could hold any office from pastor, to bishop, to minister. Navigating those two worlds for me, where inside my church community women were the majority and we were equal in leadership at every level, and then going into the world where that was a different construct helped me to understand the jewel that was in my church that nurtured me and helped me to understand my worth as a woman. It also helped me to recognize the struggles that my sisters outside of the church were facing. It was a time of straddling fences for me – a time of coming to understand the challenges that women face in their everyday lives.
During the convention, you were interviewed by Melissa Harris – Perry and mentioned how Fannie Loy Hamer was treated. How did you implement change during the two times you were chair of the convention to ensure no one was treated unjustly?
For me, I’m proud to be a member of the democratic party where we pride ourselves on being a big tent and being accepting of the broadest diversity of people, the broadest diversity of ideas inside of our party. For me, as someone who is leading the convention, my goal became to translate that core belief system in the intrinsic worth and value and to operationalize it.
It’s one thing to have speakers in front of the camera where America can see our diversity. It’s wholly different, and has become one of my hallmarks, to have that same kind of diversity behind the camera – that people don’t see when they turn on their television. That means ensuring that our hiring is inclusive and diverse, that we put particular emphasis to ensure that our staff reflects the diversity of the democratic party, of the people who vote for us, and of the diversity of America. But that translates also to how we spend our money, because the budget is not just a numerical document – it’s a moral document. So, ensuring that the money that we spent equally was spread across the communities who trust us with their votes every cycle. That also gets to the question of the culture of the organization, so that the the team members feel that they have an environment that is supportive, that is nurturing, and that cares about them.
Wherever I go, I like to create families, so the the workplace becomes a family nucleus. So they know they’re gonna eat, that someone cares about the day to day of their lives, whether your cat died or your boyfriend broke up with you, that your workplace is a place that’s nurturing to you and that will support your professional goals. That will celebrate with you and celebrate for you the achievements of your professions and the achievements of your life and when you build that kind of ethos into the workplace, then justice follows, because you’re starting from a place where we are all equal, where we care about each other and the ups and downs of our lives. When you have that kind of environment among your employees, then you don’t have to worry about injustice or people being treated unfairly because we start from a place of fairness. Those are some of the things that I build into the organization, or the convention, that I lead. That we ensure that the staffing, that the delegates, feel that they are welcome, that their needs have been thought about in advance, and they can come to do the business of the party when they come. The other part of it is just the technical part of the convention rules. Part of why Fannie Loy Hamer was locked out was the rules of the convention that did not allow her to be seated. We’ve changed those rules and come a very long way and now in our party convention it is a mandate that half of every delegation must be female. We call it equal division. The delegates must reflect the proportion of candidates who were on the ballot so that all the viewpoints are represented in the room. When you start the foundation with rules that are designed to ensure fairness, it’s not all perfect, but it starts to create a room of 6,000 delegates who reflect our values and reflect our vision we have for the country.