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Courtesy of Melissa Ingram

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.

BOSS UP

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

Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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