This TV Exec Spills The Tea On The Secret To Truly Bossing Up

To get beyond the cliche, here's a strategy that leads to real-world wins.


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

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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