How Being Prepared For The Opportunities Allowed Leah Daughtry To Make History
By Bri’Ann Stephens
In 2017, I watched Leah Daughtry as she shared her story on TV One. Not only did I relate to her frustration in attending networking events, but I related in her frustration with being unemployed. I thought to myself, “how can a woman who held the title of CEO of the DNC be in my shoes?” “How can she find herself sitting on the couch doing the, “ugly cry”? The ugly cry is a cry that many women find themselves doing when life becomes overwhelming.
I knew that if Leah Daughtry was able to share her testimony on a public stage and platform, that she was no longer doing the ugly cry. In this transparent conversation with Leah Daughtry, she talks about becoming Chief of Staff, CEO of the DNC, the pressures she faces as a black woman, and the barriers we can overcome as women and a society.
Post the 2008 Convention
In June of 2009, Leah Daughtry left the DNC. At that time, it hadn’t dawned on her that it would be a challenge finding a job. It was hard for her to find employment from summer, going into fall. In the beginning, being unemployed didn't faze her because she was tired from the campaign and convention.
“I was pretty great with finances, so I wasn’t worried about trying to pay bills. I took that time to become a full time student and finish my seminary degree.”
However, there became a point where she felt like she was going to deplete all of the funds she had saved, at the rate that she was going. When she began looking for a job, it was hard. She wasn’t sure if she wanted a job or wanted to be a business woman.
“And I think it was more about my own sense of self and sense of self worth.”
She thought how could she have worked in Washington for so long without getting any calls returned.
“I just thought, what am I doing? What happened? Did I do this wrong? Did I miss something? I thought that I was doing the things that God called me to do. Did I hear wrong, what happened?”
For Leah, it was a time of deep contemplation and prayer. It was a time for her to hear what the spirit was saying to her.
In that moment, she decided to be still. It was a time for her to reset her own understanding of her worth, skill set and self value.
Activism. Leadership. Politics.
Leah Daughtry is a fourth generation pastor’s kid, so leadership at that level was normal. Her church was a socially conscious activists church. They embraced issues around police brutality, economic injustice, poverty, marches, and rallies. Their church was the headquarters for the activists in New York.
She was accustomed to elected officials being in and out of the church. The first time she really embraced a campaign outside of her church’s involvement was Reverend Jackson’s 1984 campaign. At this time Leah was in college.
“That was a decision I made on my own, not because our church was doing it or because it was the way the community was leading. But because I decided I wanted to be engaged in his political campaign, in his presidential campaign.”
While she was in college, one of the congressmen that she helped elect needed an intern. He called and asked for someone from their church, particularly her or her sister. Leah went to work for him during the summer. A year after she graduated from college, he called and asked her to go back to Washington.
Once Leah understood that, she knew that she wanted to be apart of the process to help people’s lives.
Making History: CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee, Twice
Leah Daughtry was open to being the CEO of the DNC twice. However, when people first approached her with the offer, she said no.
“No one's ever done it twice. There's a reason nobody's ever done it twice.”
As the process went on, she became more comfortable and open to the idea being the CEO for a second time. Because she had done it before she knew the parameters in which she could be successful and deliver what the chair would want. She had done a great job once, so she knew exactly what she needed. Being open to the possibility opened new doors for Daughtry.
The Pressures of Being Perfect As A Black Woman
“I have never felt the pressure to be perfect and this is partly because of my Christian upbringing, my faith. I know I am not perfect, that is the role that God plays in my life.”
She feels internal pressure to do the amazing job that she knows that she can do. She doesn’t take projects that she knows she can’t fulfill, because she doesn’t do things halfway. She feels the pressure to represent her community well. She never wants to be an embarrassment to her community, to her family, or to God.
Leah has never had to compromise her beliefs. In the beginning of her career, she never worked on Sunday’s unless it was a true emergency. She didn’t even work during her church conventions.
But as she’s grown, she’s moved up the ladder and she’s clear about meetings she will not attend, people that she will not work with, and issues where she is not the best spokesperson.
Everything leading up to becoming Chief of Staff has helped her to understand her boundaries. So she’s never had to compromise. She has never had a problem with saying no. She knows her skill set and what is the best fit for her.
God Is Not A Genie
“The idea of God, is an idea of a God that comes to your rescue. He delivers on demand. You pray a prayer and God responds with a blue Tiffany's box.”
Leah rejects this notion because she believes God provides us with opportunities and it is our responsibility to be prepared for them, to walk through the door that God opens for you. She believes that is our job. She says God's job is to be present, to be supportive, open doors and provide the opportunities.
“We have to do the walking through the door. We have to be prepared with the resume, the skills and make the most of the opportunities that God does provide for us.”
It has been true in Leah’s life: God provides her with opportunities, but once she has it, it is up to her to make the most of it.
In the 1992 convention, she worked for Alexis Herman. Alexis Herman is the first African American CEO of a convention. Leah was a member of her team and she studied what she did. She could have just walked away with a great experience, but she took away her skill set: as a manager, organizer, administrative wiz, a manager of people. So when the door opened in the 2008 convention, she had the skill set to walk through the door. If she had not prepared and gained the reputation as an excellent manager, the opportunity as CEO may not have came because she wouldn’t have been Chief of Staff.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock” Revelation 3:20
Leah had to be prepared with the opportunity that God gave to her.
Biggest Barriers of Female Leadership Today
“I think the biggest barrier is patriarchal system, which does not expect women's leadership.”
Leah says that we live in a system that does not expect women to lead in America and around the world on different levels. When women try to lead, it creates internal conflict. The system has been trained to disregard the women who will lead.
This system also impacts how women think about themselves and each other.
“If you ask a man to run for office, you only have to ask him twice. You have to ask a woman seven times before she'll say yes.”
She says as women we have to first jump over the hurdle and believe that we can really do this. Secondly, there are cultural barriers. Women have to think about their life. They have to ask themselves, “who's going to pick up the dry cleaning? Who's going to get the kids to school soccer practice? Who's taking the dog to the vet?”
Women have other culturally imposed expectations.
“In politics things are changing because now we have more role models. We get to see more women doing it, successfully.”
Advice For Black Women Who Are powerful And Faith Driven Yet Feel Stagnant
“Nothing of value grows in stagnant water.”
Leah wants you to know that if you’re at a in between season in your life, see it as a time for growth and choose to see it as a valuable time. Ask yourself, “what is the reason why God has you in this in between season.
It may be time for you to re-evaluate, to grow, or try something new. If we believe that our relationship with God is one of value, then all things work together for good, if you believe it. Even the in between season is meant to grow something.
Make yourself a vessel for new opportunities, for new people, for new ideas, and allow God to shape you in that moment. Maybe you needed a period of rest to get ready for what God is doing. That is was God was doing for Leah.
She says, you can’t stay down in the dumps. Then you close yourself off from the opportunities and you really don’t believe the scripture. If all things work together for the good, then even this season is meant to bear some fruit.
To learn more about Leah Daughtry, visit her website www.onthesethings.com or follow her on Twitter Leah D. Daughtry.