Scroll through your social feeds, and you're very likely to spot at least one reference to being a "boss," or "bossing up." There's always talk about getting to the bag or hustling, but do we really know how to boss up? I mean, when we get past the cliches, what do these catchphrases really mean? Is it a title, an action, a lifestyle, or all of the above? For TV exec Melissa Ingram, it's not the traditional dog-eat-dog, what-can-you-do-for-me, rat-race adage, nor is it necessarily all about hustling.
"It's really my framework of servant leadership that is drawn from a great book that I have studied. And the secret is: Great leaders serve."
This focus on servant leadership has clearly benefited our good Spelman sis (HBCU tribe, stand up!) and University of California, Berkeley grad. She wears multiple leadership hats as Senior Vice President of Multicultural Networks and Strategy and General Manager at UP Entertainment, one of the foremost media companies that celebrates and showcases Black lifestyle and culture.
And let's get into some more career receipts: She started out as an associate lawyer at Atlanta's Alston & Bird, LLP—one of the largest law firms in the southeast—and eventually advanced to working as an associate lawyer at The Carter Law Firm, representing singers, record labels, and songwriters in the South's mecca of music.
Then she joined UPtv in 2009, working as part of the counsel, business, and legal affairs teams, and was privy to the transition into the company's partnership with NBA legend and entrepreneur Magic Johnson to launch AspireTV. She moved through the ranks, from Senior Director of Business Affairs Development on to VP and General Manager.
Aspire was eventually acquired by UP Entertainment, and Ingram's now in charge of executive strategy and management at the company, which offers programming including Just Angela (starring Angela Simmons) and Unboxed with Nikki Chu (starring the celebrity designer and entrepreneur).
"Reading and analytical thinking are things that come into play even as a business executive. So, critical thinking—the thinking outside the box—that's creativity, and that's what I'm still doing today. I can look back on things now and say, 'Oh, I thank God for that experience and that training' because it really has come in handy today."
Ingram urges all women to get comfortable with infusing service in the act of leadership because it literally does wonders for our personal and work lives. "It's rare that we hear people say, 'Serve others,' but we should use less 'I' and 'me' in talking and more 'us' and 'we.' I'm an advocate of this."
She's guided by an acronym for S.E.R.V.E. that we can all learn and grow from. (And go ahead, sis, print these phrases out and put them up at your desk, on your vision board, or somewhere near your work space. In these post-pandemic times, you need every bit of extra inspiration, motivation, and sheer love to keep you going throughout our work day. Thank us later.)
S - See and shape the vision.
"What I'm talking about is not only the vision for your life, but for the brand and any team you may be part of. When you are in leadership or aspiring toward leadership, part of your responsibility is to create a vision that others can buy into and understand their role in. On a day-to-day basis, I'm trying to bring clarity and make it plain for my team. I also allow the people I work with and my experiences to inspire me to create a bigger vision."
E - Engage and develop others.
"When you invest in others, they begin to trust you. And it's always been purpose over position for me. Don't get so caught up in a title. Ask yourself, 'What's my purpose in this role? Is this an opportunity for me to serve and bring my unique skill sets to the table to help others?' As a manager, if your team succeeds, you succeed. Even if you're not a manager, you can still seek to develop and engage others. You may lack title and status now, but [don't] fail to see the power of influence that your role has. That's more powerful than any position or title."
R - Reinvent continuously.
"True leaders always learn and grow. Be adaptable. Things change. We know this. COVID has happened. Life happens. And you don't want to let inflexibility cancel or block your opportunities. We often believe that once you set a vision, it's done. You don't touch it and leave it alone. But you have to be open to evolving. When roadblocks happen—when you're forced off campus, the office is closed, or you get laid off— then how do you adapt? How do you reinvent?
"What should never change is your authenticity. You must be you through and through. Lean into your uniqueness, and find companies and roles that allow you to come in and be yourself. If you're an entrepreneur, build a business that respects and celebrates the differences of others."
V - Value relationships and results.
"I cannot stress this enough. We are only better together. From the front desk to the mail room, everyone matters. Everyone you come into contact with, whether it's at the interview or on the first day at the job—they matter. What also matters is delivering results, being a woman of your word, and pursuing excellent work. That's valuing relationships and results."
E - Embody your values.
"As a leader, if you don't, you will be called out really quickly. If you've done all the other things in this acronym, but you don't embody the values, then you aren't living what you're preaching. I'm very keen on the fact that I want my teams to grow and develop under my leadership. [That means] meeting with them, having check-ins, and making myself available for things they are working on. That's key."
Featured image courtesy of Melissa Ingram