Belief in Self will Get You Everywhere
Interview with Tiana S. Clark, Creator and Executive Producer
Sometimes when you meet someone or see them in action, you just get a sense about them. And that is exactly how I felt about Tiana Clark when I saw her on a panel for Equal Pay Day a few weeks ago. Tiana has a presence about her that is one that you want to pay attention to, and the more she spoke, the more I understood why I was drawn in. This woman has quite the impressive history and approach to life. Read below to learn more.
WeInspireWe: Hi Tiana. Thank you so much for agreeing to be featured here as an Inspiring Interview and female leader. Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?
Tiana Clark: Sure! My name is Tiana S. Clark and professionally I am a Creator & Executive Producer. To break that down, I work at Microsoft as a Sales Leader and D&I Leader and I am also the Creator & Executive Producer of the multi-award-winning pre-teen film, Soci Circle. With about 20 years of experience, I have learned that I am passionate about empowering people to embrace their awesomeness.
In a nutshell, I would say that I am multi-faceted, creative, and intentional. I don’t just meet challenges, I exceed them. In the nonprofit sector, I launched a mentor organization with the backing of the mayor’s office and most prominent CEOs. In the commercial sector, I’ve delivered unparalleled business results year-after-year. In the public sector, I was named Airman of the Year for my leadership in the United States Air Force. And, in the Education sector, I received my greatest fulfillment: building the confidence in youth that they can be exceptional. As an entrepreneur, I created and executive produced a multi-award-winning film, Soci Circle, that addresses social issues, diversity and inclusion amongst pre-teen girls. Beyond that, I am a world traveler, a wife and a mother of four (ages 3-12). I set very high expectations for my children and they continue to exceed my wildest imaginations.
WIW: Dang! So many great examples right off the bat! Tell us a little bit about the path that has gotten you to be the strong, female leader you are today.
TS: The toughest challenge I had to face was the murder of my mother when I was 11 years old. I felt confused, angry, rebellious, and severely depressed. I was surrounded by caring family members, but still felt I had to "grow up" overnight. I felt very independent and that only I knew what was best for me. When I joined the Air Force at 19, I inherited huge responsibilities, such as leading an entire school of military trainees, developing war target strategy, and briefing military officers on current intelligence. I even won Airman of the Year, which is a huge honor. I learned at an early age that I can do anything I want, despite my challenges. I haven't slowed down since.
WIW: In a few words, how would you describe your personal leadership style.
TS: Leadership is not about domination, it’s making those around me better.
WIW: How would you say that your philosophy on leadership has evolved over the years?
TS: I used to be a bit bossy as a young girl. Then, the military surfaced in me leadership capabilities I didn’t even know that I had. But, when I joined corporate America, that sense of self was challenged. As a Black woman in an environment that had few women, and even less Black women, there was an assimilation and mental health struggles about why “I wasn’t good enough” to be more promotable, when I had accomplished SO MUCH previously. I noticed the leadership styles of others in Corporate America, and didn’t want to compromise myself to assimilate to those styles. I realize people followed me and I had influence – in my own unique way of empowering and inspiring others.
WIW: You had so many significant learnings at such a young age. What would you say is a major “aha” that you’ve had along the way about the leader you wanted (or want) to be.
TS: It was definitely when I met Susan L. Taylor – my idol. She is the Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of ESSENCE magazine. When I spent the day with her about 10 years ago, we bonded, and I got to see her leadership style up close. She was very graceful. Never has to raise her voice – her presence alone commands attention. She’s adored by thousands of people worldwide, but she is not to be walked over or disrespected. And, when you leave her presence, there’s something in your soul that aspires to be greater and do better. I thought, “I want to be like HER!”
This has also taught me that no matter what, I want to work with people who have great work ethic, high integrity, and a passion for what they do. When that happens, everything else should fall into place.
WIW: There is something so powerful about realizing that who and what we surround ourselves with can significantly impact who we are. That can happen both positively and negatively. Can you give us an example of a particularly difficult leadership situation and how you handled it?
TS: I'm in the Air Force, and 9/11 just happened. We needed certain supplies for our pilots – can't tell you what those were, but they were very difficult to source. I remember speaking to a supplier, who insisted he could not help me whatsoever. I raised my voice, stressed the severity of the situation (I mean, hello!), and he didn’t budge. I had to tell my chief I had failed at my task. Chief Boggs said, “I’ll give him a call.” He came back quickly after and said, everything is on the way. I was stunned. What the heck just happened? He told me, “Tiana, you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” That situation changed my perspective forever.
WIW: It is interesting to understand the power of our voices and approaches to problem solving. As we think about women thriving in leadership, what do you think we need to do as a community to support each other to rise up?
TS: Candidly, we need to get out of each other’s way. We also need to acknowledge that women of color have particularly greater challenges, and seek to understand the experiences of these women. With this degree of empathy, we can consider holistic approaches that are more inclusive of women of color as well.
WIW: What do you believe are the biggest challenges that female leaders face today and how should they approach solving them?
TS: Determining our leadership style is a big challenge, but so is confidence. We aren’t sure how to show up. If we’re too passionate, we may be labeled as aggressive – “angry” if you’re a Black woman. If we’re not aggressive, we’re labeled as “too nice” and incapable of being a leader.
And, our confidence is tested every single day. Should I even apply for that role? Am I capable? Didn’t I just say the same thing HE said…or, was I not being articulate enough? Why can’t I get promoted? Do I need more degrees or certifications under my belt? It never stops. My recommendation is to get rooted in WHO YOU ARE, both inside and outside of that job. Remember all that you have accomplished, ponder it and celebrate it. You are truly capable. If your organization doesn’t see that, move on. Don’t waste years attempting to prove yourself to people who don’t “see” you.
WIW: Tiana, based on your experience, your leadership style and your perspective, what advice would you want to give to a young female employee beginning to develop her leadership style and approach.
TS: Be confident in who you are. Seek mentors (and show up professionally with an agenda). Grow your network and learn from others. Exemplify strong work ethic, passion, and integrity, and you’ll be asked to take on greater responsibilities.
Whether you’re in corporate America, the military, a creative field or an entrepreneur, being confident in who you are and demonstrating your proficiencies will get you far. Don’t be afraid to go after what it is that you really want because if you set your mind to it, you can achieve anything – at any age – at any level. Tiana is proof of that and continues to inspire the world around her daily to do more of the same.
Thank you Tiana for sharing your story with us!